WESTON, Conn. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that at least 7 million sports and recreation-related injuries occur in the United States each year. More than half of those injured are between 5 and 24 years old.
Connecticut is no exception. A state Department of Public Health survey found that 40 percent of high school students reported that they were injured and had to seek medical treatment while playing sports or exercising in the past year.
The most common types of sports injuries are sprains and strains, which affect overextended ligaments and muscles. One of the most at-risk of these is the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) found in the lower leg.
Dr. Michael Marks, an orthopedic surgeon at Norwalk Hospital who has taken care of the Weston High School football team since 1988, said, The biggest thing high school athletes have to deal with is strains and sprains. Especially if they havent done pre-season conditioning, they get overuse injuries.
To prevent ACL tears, exercise programs that strengthen the hamstring muscles, core and hips are recommended. Marks said football players can tape their ankles, and linemen can wear knee braces.
Another group is growth plate injuries, which damage still-developing bones of growing children. They particularly affect the long bones: forearms, upper and lower legs and hands and feet. Proper safety equipment, strength training and a diet high in calcium to increase bone density will help prevent these injuries.
Repetitive motion injuries, such as tendonitis, which come from overuse of muscles, bones and tendons, affect golfers, tennis players and especially baseball and softball pitchers.
To prevent these injuries, young athletes should get planned rest, such as keeping to pitch counts in baseball, and do exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff, a group of muscles and tendons that act to stabilize the shoulder, and other joints.
The fourth category is heat-related injuries, often caused by dehydration or overexposure to the sun.
Every summer we hear about athletes dying of heat stroke, Marks said. They start off in pre-season with two practices a day and dont get the proper rehydration in the course of those days.
Weston High School coach Joe Lato prevents hydration injuries by providing players with water breaks and their own water bottles. We encourage kids to have water because we never want them to feel thirsty, which is a sign of dehydration, he said.
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has a guide to preventing sport injuries for parents and children.
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