Hockey season is rolling steadily into playoffs, and summer registrations have opened up for our next season of competitive sports. Rugby, field and box lacrosse, baseball, soccer, you name it, our kids are playing it! To keep you and your kiddos on the field and off the sidelines, here are 5 tips to help prevent early season injuries!
1. Get Your Equipment Ship-Shape
Has your young athlete grown this year? Chances are they have, so one of the first and easiest things you can do to prevent early-season sports injuries is check the fit of all of their equipment. Cleats, particularly, don't always weather the storm of rapid growth in young athletes.
It's important to know that cleats line up where they should (over
weightbearing points - ball of the foot, particularly at the big toe, along the outside of the foot, and heel), and that older pairs (for our athletes that are no longer growing) aren't wearing out in the toes. Pads should be cleaned, straps should be fixed, and helmets should be checked for fit and function. A craftsmen is only as good as his tools, and making sure yours are in good working order will make your start of season a strong one!
2. Transitions Are KEY
Do you treadmill run in the winter and road run in the summer? Are you on skates all winter and find yourself running on bare concrete for box lacrosse in the summer time? Is the first time you hit sod at your first soccer practice in May? Well then you're going to find yourself in a transition.
In physiotherapy, we most common time we see early-season injuries is when there is a change. So to stay SAFE when starting a new season, remember to ease into the: surface, amount, footwear, and environment.
Surface: Refers to the type of surface you're on. Did you go from ice to concrete? Treadmill to road? Gym to grass? Generally speaking, the harder the surface you're transitioning to, the longer transition time you need. This means easing onto the new playing field, stopping before your feet force you to.
Amount: Refers to how often you're playing or participating at the beginning of the season. Do you go from zero activity to daily try-outs and practice? Are you on the road running every day as soon as the snow melts? If you're a coach, it's important to know where your athletes are coming from and ease them into season over a few weeks instead of hitting 110% right out the gate. Sacrificing a little bit of time at the beginning of season may actually help keep your team in the game long-term.
Footwear: Like I mentioned above, having appropriate fitting footwear is an important and easy way to reduce injury risk, but the other side of that coin is to gradually increase your time in that type of footwear. If your feet have been in skates all winter, the small muscles of the foot haven't had to do as much as they'll have to when you get onto the lacrosse floor or field.
Environment: Environment covers everything else from temperature (you're more susceptible to heat related issues early in the year), to the aspects of the game itself (how long the game play is, how regularly breaks come, what energy systems dominate the sport).
3. Timing Is EVERYTHING
Are you going straight from your final playoff game into preseason tournaments and try outs? Better yet, does your playoff season overlap with the start of your summer sport? I see this every season with the Owen Sound Jr B Northstars: our fantastic young athletes end up going deep into their Jr A, B and C hockey playoffs at the same time as we start rookie runs, try outs, preseason games and, occasionally get into our regular season. Some years we have NCAA athletes returning from school immediately following their field lacrosse seasons to jump right into box lacrosse. These athletes have a tendency to be the ones to get hurt early in the season, or who have to delay the start of their season because of injuries.
To reduce this risk, we control volume, limit practice time, reduce the amount of conditioning they are doing, or hold them out altogether. In a perfect world, every athlete would have a week of down time between seasons, but when that's not the case it's up to athletes, parents and coaches to get the timing right.
4. Recover Like A Pro
When you or your young athlete are in the early part of a season, recovery is more important than ever. This means eating, sleeping, and recovering like you're going to be doing it all season (because you are!).
Eat whole foods. Protein for muscle recovery, carbs for quick energy, and fats to promote long acting energy - every one is important, and the best place to get them is from whole foods: fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and lean meats.
Sleep 8-10 hours every night. It's non-negotiable. There is a well documented relationship between lack of sleep and injuries. Ditch the iPhone, cut the lights, cool things down, and get comfortable.
Recover with exercises to support your high level of activity. This might mean a recovery jog or bike ride on a non-training day, a nightly stretch and foam roll session to mobilize stiff areas, or a good soak to unwind.
5. Don't Let Molehills Become Mountains
Have you been battling a niggling injury? Do you find yourself telling people you have a "bad knee," "heel spur," or pulled groin that you've been nursing, waiting for it to get better on it's own? We hear this often: an injury that's not quite an injury yet, that you've been sitting on and protecting (sometimes without even realizing it), until something happens in the transition to a new season (see #2) and all of a sudden you find yourself on the sidelines.
Having a pre-season movement assessment that is based around the demands of your sport is an easy way to address problem areas that could become actual problems, and getting niggling injuries treated is easier, faster and cheaper than the alternative. Seek out a Registered Physiotherapist or Chiropractor that knows your sport and will take the time to build a program to keep you in action (spoiler alert: we know a couple of really good ones and you can find them at connectrehab.janeapp.com)