By Dr. Justin P. Hooker
Did you know, it is estimated that over 35 million children across the United States regularly participate in various sports programs? This is great news! Participation in organized physical games can improve both the physical and mental health of a child. It also teaches the benefits of self-control and teamwork and establishes healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
Despite all the benefits, however, physical sports activity can lead to injuries. In fact, nearly 40 percent of the injuries suffered by youth are sports related. Roughly one-third of school-age children will suffer a sports-related injury that is serious enough to require treatment from a medical professional.
In the winter months, children will most likely be playing indoor sports, whereas when spring comes around, they move outside. This means they are moving from one type of playing surface to another. Playing on different surfaces with varying levels of impact can add stress to your young athlete’s feet and ankles. Another risk for is overuse injuries in which they go from sport to sport without allowing their bones and muscles to rest. In young athlete’s whose bones are still developing, this kind of injury is very common.
If your child is participating in a sporting activity this spring, especially after coming off a winter sports season, use these eight tips to help prevent a foot or ankle injury:
- Get a pre-season physical.
A simple physical not only makes sure your child is healthy enough to participate in the sport they wish to play, but can also reveal if any previous injuries need extra support or protection; like wearing ankle wraps and other orthotics.
- Ease into it.
Discuss the possibility of gradually increasing playing time during practice, and avoiding pushing them full throttle too soon with the coach. To keep feet and ankles in good shape, it is important that they have time to become accustomed to the level of activity the sport they are partaking in requires. Sufficient conditioning can help prevent injury and improve performance during the sports season.
- Wear the right footwear.
Each sport requires a different type of shoe to keep the foot supported and stable during the movements specific to the activity they are participating in. Wearing the proper, well-fitting, athletic shoe can eliminate heel and toe pain and discomfort and improve their performance.
- Buy new shoes at the beginning of each season.
Sports shoes can be expensive, so it may be tempting to let you child wear the same shoes two years in a row. Especially if the foot hasn’t changed size. This is a mistake, however- one that can leave your child subject to serious ankle sprains or foot injuries. Over time, shoes wear down and don’t offer the same amount of support and stability. They stretch and bend, and even the smallest change in the way the ankle tilts can lead to a big problem.
- Inspect the playing area for possible hazards.
Twisted ankles and ankle sprains happen easily when children are running, jumping and kicking on uneven surfaces. Before any sporting competitions, especially if they are in areas like open fields and public parks, walk the field and do a safety check. Alert the coach of any hazards- like foot size ditches that are hidden by grass, or sprinkler heads and other objects they can trip on- as they can lead to foot and ankle injuries.
- Make sure there is a pre-game warm up.
Children should never begin a sport without first warming up. Stretching, light jogging, and cardio activity like jumping jacks help prepare the blood vessels, ligaments, muscles, tendons for the activity ahead. This greatly reduces the chance of injury.
- Watch them closely.
As your child’s biggest cheerleader, you are bound to be at most practices and games. Therefore you will be able to notice any differences in your child’s form or technique- which often indicates that something may be wrong. If your child begins to place more weight on one side of their body or begins limping, you should start asking questions as they may need to see a doctor. Insist that your child informs you and their coach of any discomfort or pain they may be experiencing. The sooner an injury is detected and treated, the sooner it will heal.
- In the event of an injury, remember R.I.C.E.
Often, injured feet or ankles can be healed with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (R.I.C.E). If your child is complaining of pain they should take a break from playing and allow some time for recovery. If the pain persists longer than a day or two, becomes numb, and/or remains highly swollen, a more serious injury may have occurred. At this time, you should consult with one of the doctors here at Rocky Mountain Foot and Ankle.
If your child is experiencing foot or ankle pain, sports related or otherwise, please give Rocky Mountain Foot and Ankle a call. Our friendly foot and ankle doctors, will evaluate your child’s injury and come up with an effective treatment plan specific to their needs.
Our foot and ankle care doctors and surgeons are board-certified by the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery and are members of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons and the American Podiatric Medical Association. Call (208) 855-5955 or request an appointment online.
About Dr. Hooker: Dr. Hooker enjoys all aspects of podiatric medicine and surgery including sports medicine, reconstructive surgery, trauma and wound care. He completed a three-year podiatric medical and surgical residency at Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona and was trained at a Level 1 Trauma Center and the nationally-renowned Arizona Burn Center.