Our society puts a lot of pressure on athletes to "win at all costs." Professional and college-level athletes get media attention and sophisticated medical care for their sports injuries, but what about high school athletes? "Unfortunately the needs of high school athletes often get relegated to the sidelines," says Joseph A. Bosco III, MD, a New York city-based orthopaedist and physician for the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team. Dr. Bosco participated in a media briefing on high school athletes at the 2002 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
Sports injuries in teens differ from adults
Every year, millions of teenagers participate in high school sports. Teenage athletes get injured at about the same rate as pro athletes. But injuries that affect high school athletes are often different than those that affect adults, for example, growth plate injuries and spondylolisthesis.
Growth plate injuries: The bone structure of most adolescents is not mature, meaning there are areas of growing tissue (growth plates) near the end of long bones. These areas injure more easily than tendons and ligaments. Thus, sports activities that could cause a sprain in an adult could cause a more serious injury in a high school athlete. Growth plate injuries happen most often in contact sports like football or basketball and overuse sports like gymnastics or baseball.
Spondylolisthesis: Young athletes who over-stretch the spine in sports like gymnastics, weight lifting or football can develop a stress fracture on one or both sides of the bones that make up the spine (vertebra). A stress fracture that causes the vertebra to slip out of place is called spondylolisthesis.
Inflammation of cartilage and underlying bone (osteochondritis) also affects young athletes.
Get prompt medical attention
All sports injuries and complaints from young athletes need prompt medical attention. "Parents and coaches should not pressure the athlete to work through the pain because untreated injuries can lead to permanent damage and later disease, such as osteoarthritis," Dr. Bosco explains. "Young athletes are resilient, but parents and coaches should never assume kids will 'bounce back' from an injury because of their youth," he notes.
Generally, young athletes are anxious to return to sports, so if your injured child expresses concerns about returning to their sports activity, be aware that the child's injury has probably not been completely resolved. It is also possible that there may be a psychological or emotional reason for the child not wanting to return to sports activity and this should be investigated before the child is returned.