“Pain is gain" is the motto of many student athletes now returning to their school playing fields. But young doesn't mean invincible. The injury rate for teen athletes is roughly the same as among the pros, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. But what might amount to a minor injury in an adult can be more significant in a growing athlete. Students often don't recognize the fine line between pushing to excel and doing harm, said Jeff Konin, executive director of the University of South Florida's Sports Medicine and Athletic Related Trauma Institute. "If you want to be an athlete, you have to push the limits of training, so it's difficult to know when to back off," he said. "The key is to listen to your body." Each athlete has a different injury threshold, he noted. Coaches and players can help prevent injuries through conditioning exercises, warm-ups and cool-downs, learning proper form and technique. In the Florida heat, staying hydrated is always important. And parents can help, too, by looking out for the most common injuries in the following popular youth sports, according to the orthopedic surgeons academy and the SMART Institute.
Little League elbow isn't a joke. Repetitive throwing can cause strains and sprains in the shoulder and arms. The most serious injuries happen when players collide with balls, bats or other ballplayers.
Few players touch the hoop, but flying balls and limbs make basketball a contact sport without the padding. Sprains can happen fast when players change directions on the move, and it's worth paying close attention to the playing conditions. A pickup game on poorly maintained asphalt presents different hazards than playing in a high school gym.
The pompoms aren't dangerous, but lots can go wrong with the acrobatic stunts and backflips required to really bring it on. Concussions and broken bones are possible when cheerleaders land at the wrong angle, or on a surface that's too hard. Another major concern: lack of proper spotting.
Tackling isn't the only reason football is the leading cause of school sport injuries. Young athletes can suffer long-term brain damage by returning to play before fully healing from a concussion. Protective gear is a must, but it can make players more prone to heat exhaustion.
The lower body does the bulk of the work and gets the injuries to prove it. Over time, runners can suffer from tendinitis and muscle strains. Shin splints aren't as concerning today as in the past, thanks to better shoes and track surfaces. Still, girls are more prone to knee injuries than boys due to their wider hips.
Poor technique can lead to the dreaded ACL tear, an injury to the ligament critical to knee stability. It's especially common in girls and often means surgery. Concussions and shoulder dislocations are under-appreciated dangers in a sport also associated with strains and sprains.
"Swimmer's shoulder" is the tendinitis that can develop from repetitive swim strokes. Many swimmers also suffer back pain from the arching position they assume each time they come up for air.
In the ultimate contact sport, wrestlers face heightened risks for concussions and shoulder dislocations. Common leg injuries include painful swelling over the kneecaps. MRSA infections are another risk to wrestlers, so be sure mats and uniforms are properly cleaned and wash your skin after contact with another athlete.
Worse than most sports injuries? Getting no exercise at all. Activity is key to fighting childhood obesity. Children who are heavy, even if they aren't obese, put more strain on their joints in daily walking, increasing their lifetime risk of injury. They also face increased risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.