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Injury prevention, treatment key for adolescent athletes

By BEN MCCARTY

News staff writer

August 19, 2006

Every year, more than two million high school student-athletes are injured playing sports. Some injuries are relatively minor, but others can be catastrophic. Athletes can suffer everything from minor ankle sprains to ruptured Achilles tendons to concussions. While some injuries are inevitable, a majority are preventable if athletes make sure they are prepared.

Ed Medina, athletic trainer at Hood River Valley High School, sees many foot injuries that could be prevented by simple adjustments to footwear. “There is a need for good quality shoes that fit correctly and have good arch support,” Medina said. “Sixty to 70 percent (of foot injuries) I see come from not having good quality shoes.”

He also added that he has seen many athletes get hurt simply because they do not tie their shoes, and then trip over the laces. Any athlete is one off-balance step or awkward step away from a sprained ankle or twisted knee, but having the proper footwear can help to mitigate the risk.

Preventive body maintenance by athletes can go a long way in ensuring they stay healthy. “Stretching is important,” Medina said. “They need to take it seriously as part of their regimen.” A good stretching regimen and conditioning exercises can prepare muscles and joints for the wear and tear they experience during the athletic season.

“Stretching is the most important part for preventing many injuries,” said Dr. Troy Simmons of Mt. Hood Podiatry. “They should stretch before, during and after practice.” Stretching and conditioning neck muscles reduces the risk of head injury in football, while stretching and conditioning the lower body can help reduce the impact of running for extended periods of time in sports like cross county and soccer.

Simmons says the most common lower body injuries he sees among young athletes are ankle sprains, Achilles tendonitis and severe shin splints.

He says the best way to stay injury-free is prevention through preparation.

“Before you have all this running do a light workout beforehand,” Simmons said. “If you are going to run four miles in practice, start running a mile beforehand.”

He also recommends riding a bike to loosen the legs and engaging in light weight training to prepare the legs for the sports season.

Simmons also emphasized the need for athletes who have had injuries in the past to make sure to tape up those areas or to find a brace to help prevent a repeat injury.

With temperatures expected to be in the 90-degree range for all of next week, it is especially important for athletes to stay hydrated during practice. Dehydration can lead to heatstroke.

“They should be drinking lots of liquids before practicing,” Medina said. “They should drink a minimum of one Gatorade a day to put back lost nutrients.”

The National Federation of High School Associations, the national authority on interscholastic activities, recommends that high school athletes drink 17-20 ounces of water or sports drinks with six to eight percent carbohydrates two to three hours before a game or practice. The NFHSA also recommends drinking water during and after practices and games, and before feeling thirsty.

If you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated. If an athlete feels thirsty, he/she should not ignore it. Instead they should immediately re-hydrate themselves. The NFSHA recommends consuming 7-10 ounces of water or sports drink every 10-20 minutes to maintain hydration and to continue drinking even if you don’t feel thirsty.

Athletes are often told or expected to play through pain. However, there is a difference between playing through pain and playing through soreness. Soreness is an expected part of physical activity, whereas pain can signal an injury that can become worse if it is ignored.

Some warning signs of a potentially serious injury may include joint pain, tenderness and swelling, reduced range of motion, and numbness and tingling. If ignored, a minor muscle, joint, bone or nerve injury could potentially become more serious and chronic.

Simmons said the best technique for making sure an injury does not become worse can be found in the acronym RICE, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

“Swelling has everything to do with when athletes recover,” Simmons said. If the swelling from an injury is taken care of soon after it happens it is easier determine the type of injury, and if surgery is needed it can be performed sooner. If the injury is not dealt with right away, more trouble could develop down the road, Simmons added.

In the end, every athlete should be aware of his or her own body, so that they can know when something is wrong. If they learn about the anatomy of their foot, they can find a properly fitting shoe. If they know that they have weaker ankles, they can find a brace for support, and they can find a warmup regimen to prepare their muscles for the rigors of competition.

“(Athletes) need to know what their injury is and understand it so they can avoid that injury in the future,” Simmons said.

For information on staying injury-free during the sports season go the National Federation of High School Associations Web site at www.nfhs.org and click on the “Sports Medicine” section. Another good quick reference on body maintenance is the sports medicine section of about.com at sportsmedicine.about.com.

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