The Young Athlete
Who is a YOUNG ATHLETE?
Technically…and skeletally, anyone under the age of 25. It is only when we are a quarter of a century old that our skeletons can be considered mature ! At this age all our growth and fusion of our growth plates is complete. Up until this stage of our lives, our bodies have undergone growth spurts, physical, mental and hormonal changes. It is then not surprising that we cannot treat our young sports people like small adults as clearly they are not.
This is vital to remember for us as physios AND for coaches, parents and the young people themselves. These youngsters are dealing with adolescence and all the changes that go with this whilst trying to perform at their best in their chosen sports.
Growth spurts will happen at various stages, each child is different and will grow at a different rate. During these periods the body is vulnerable to injuries, some which are specific to adolescence. The bones grow quickly and the soft tissues ( muscles, ligaments, tendons, connective tissue etc) need a bit longer to catch up. The long bones of a child have an area at each end known as a growth plate, it produces new bone and determines the future length, shape and health of the bone. The growth plate are very vulnerable in growing children, more so than muscles, tendons and ligaments and therefore susceptible to injury from high impact and overload.
Parents and coaches need to be aware of these periods of rapid growth and try to accommodate the children by easing off on training and varying sports participation if necessary.
There is a growing move worldwide, supported by researchers and specialists towards sports diversification and the avoidance of early sports specification. This means that children under the age of around 12 should be encouraged to take part in a wide variety of sports as each sport has its own unique set of skills, allowing the children to acquire a wide range of abilities. It has been found that those who specialise too early have a tendency to burnout and long term overuse injuries.
Our experience with our young patients is often that children are participating in club and school sport, this needs to be monitored and adequate rest and recovery allowed to prevent injury. Musculoskeletal screening by a physiotherapist is also advised to check for any risk of injuries due to lack of strength and poor quality of movement. These factors can then be managed to allow our young athletes to perform to the best of their abilities whilst protecting their bodies so that they can be lifelong athletes.
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