Avoiding Sports Injuries: Pre-Season Advice for Young Athletes

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Health Tip of the Week

What are 5 ways to prevent sports injuries?

Kids playing soccer With summer winding down and fall sports kicking into high gear, your young athlete may be more than ready to get back into the game. Before they do, keep these five tips in mind to protect them from injury and help ensure they keep playing all season and for years to come.

Start slow and mind the temperature

Jumping right back into sports after having not played all summer can lead to injury. Encourage your child to give their body time to ramp back up by doing conditioning exercises and gradually working their way to longer and more strenuous training sessions, says Naomi Brown, MD, FAAP, CAQSM, a physician who specializes in sports medicine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Because it will be a while before the cooler weather kicks in, Dr. Brown cautions young athletes to keep an eye on the temperature outside. It can take 10-14 days to acclimate to exercising in the heat. Adjust slowly, practicing your sport for 10-15 minutes in the morning and again in the late afternoon. Avoid training outside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on very hot days. Drink plenty of fluids. Keep electrolyte replacement drinks on hand for those very hot days when you must play outside in the heat.

Transition to a regular sleep schedule

If your sleep schedule is off from staying up late and sleeping in during summer vacation, it’s a good idea to start transitioning to your school-year sleep schedule now. Teenagers need 9-10 hours of sleep per night to function at an optimum level. A good night’s sleep will give you the energy you need for training and competing.

Make the transition by moving bedtime and wake times a few minutes earlier each day over the course of a few weeks. You should be back on your regular schedule by the start of the school year. And here’s a bonus tip: You’ll fall asleep faster if you avoid screentime/electronics at least 30 minutes before going to bed.

Get a sports physical before the season begins

Annual physicals are an important way to ensure you are healthy and ready for your sport! A thorough checkup could detect an issue you weren’t even aware of, but could become a problem if it’s not addressed properly. Chances are your annual physical will confirm for you that you can safely play sports. Don't wait until the last minute to schedule your physical! It might delay you being able to play your sport.

Prevent overuse injuries by mixing up your routine

Overuse injuries can occur from making the same movements repeatedly. Young athletes who focus on a single sport are at higher risk of overuse injuries, mostly because their bones and muscles are still growing, putting strain on the growth plates. Pediatric sports specialists recommend waiting until age 13 or 14 before specializing in a sport.

Proper conditioning and cross training can lower the risk of overuse injuries by allowing your body to use different muscle groups while building your strength and endurance. Participating in different types of sports can improve athleticism, so mix it up by playing a variety of sports. Here are some conditioning tips for runners.

Finally, put a cap on your weekly practice time. A good rule of thumb is to limit total hours playing that sport, both practice and competition time, based on your age. For example, a 13-year-old shouldn’t spend more than 13 hours playing soccer per week.

Regardless of your primary sport, remember to keep moving year-round and in ways that aren’t always directly related to your sport. Summer biking, swimming and hiking may soon give way to winter activities like ice skating, skiing and snowshoeing, but all are great ways to have fun while keeping your body in shape.

Listen to your body

Dr. Brown says this is the most important advice she gives to young athletes: Don’t ignore pain even if you’re tempted to work through it.

Sports injuries are often easily treated when caught early. When not addressed, a minor injury can become significant. What might have been resolved with icing and rest may require surgery and even spell the end to your participation in that sport.

Pain is your body’s way of telling you there is something going on. Sometimes it is hard to differentiate between soreness and pain. Soreness typically resolves in 1-3 days. If you have pain for more than a few days, you should take a break from sports and seek medical attention.

Youth sports medicine experts at CHOP

If you suffer a sports injury, Dr. Brown and the many other specialists in the Sports Medicine and Performance Center can help get you back in the game. Our youth sports medicine experts are available throughout the area at convenient locations in your community

Naomi Brown, MD, FAAP, CAQSM, is a sports medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia with a focus on sports injury prevention, overuse injuries and pain management.

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