September is just around the corner, which means fall sports will soon be in full swing. Many athletes have already begun preseason practice, and are moving more than they did all summer long. “If your child took the summer off from sports, the sudden surge in activity could lead to pain and injury,” says Brian T. Vernau, MD, FAAP, CAQSM, a physician who specializes in pediatric and adolescent sports medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Children in particular are susceptible to minor injuries in the lower leg. “That’s because their bones grow faster than their muscles and tendons,” says Dr. Vernau, “which can cause tightness and joint pain. One of the most common sports injuries we see at CHOP’s Sports Medicine and Performance Center is runner’s knee, often caused by tight hamstrings and quads.”
Proper conditioning will help protect your child from injury on the playing field. You may have been taught to stretch before practice, but now experts know that the best way to increase flexibility and help prevent painful joints is by stretching afterward when muscles are already warm and loose.
Best stretches for athletes
Dr. Vernau recommends the following stretches, which target the most commonly injured muscles. After a practice or game, have your child hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds without bouncing, and repeat three times on each side.
- Keep back and knee straight
- Lean forward, bending at hips
- Reach for toes
- Keep back and hip straight
- Tighten abdominal muscles
- Pull foot in with hand on same side of body
- Back heel on the floor
- Back knee straight
- Toes point forward
- Push knee forward over toes
If your athlete feels pain after starting a stretching program, ask your primary care doctor for an evaluation to rule out a serious problem.
Now, on to the next item of your back-to-school checklist: Having a safe, active and productive year!