Benefits of Youth Sports Therapy
Introduction: Kids at Play
According to the National Institute of Project Play, in 2019, 56.1% of youth reported that they participated on a sports team or took lessons after school on weekends. Athletic success at an early age can bring unique opportunities with a future of elite travel team selection, college scholarships, Olympic and National team selection, and even professional team contracts.
Dreams of this future are dreamt by many young athletes as they are pushed harder with increasing intensity, specialized training, full year seasons in the same sport, full years of multiple sports, and their peers receiving the same if not better training and resources. It is no longer about natural talent. We must focus on development and preservation of the whole athletic experience.
Increases in Injury:
Along with the increase in participation and pressure for elevated performance has come increased instances of injury. In 2015 a position statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine regarding overuse injuries and burnout in youth sports was released. It was reported then that overuse injuries were estimated at 45.9% and prevalence of acute injury was 54%. These estimates vary based on specific sports.
Repetitive Stress Injuries:
Repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) refers to an injury incurred through repetitive use of the same musculoskeletal actions. This umbrella term applies to the multitude of internal injuries that anyone can experience from overuse of an action in their daily lives. Athletes, especially youth athletes are particularly susceptible to this damage given the higher demand on their activities while their bodies are still developing.
Contributing Factors to RSI:
Specific Sport Repetitive Actions: each activity has its own unique biomechanical actions that are used to perform in each sport. These actions are continuously reinforced in muscular tissue as the activity is continued compounding as time goes.
High Intensity Single Sport Focus: When an athlete is at an elite level, often they will only play and participate in that one sport. This can lead to RSIs by only utilizing one main set of actions for an athlete. Many sports reinforce imbalances (baseball/softball, basketball) by requiring the athlete to utilize a dominant side (swinging, shooting) over and over. By including a more full body activity as part of an active recovery (i.e. light/moderate swimming) athletes can engage the whole muscular system without further reinforcing their imbalances.
Equal Intensity Multi Sport Focus: Many athletes are gifted to be able to engage in multiple sports at the elite level. Additional time in any activity elevates the risk of injury.
Higher Strength Training Volume/Effort: Athletes are finding the stronger they become, the better their performance. Strength training is a valuable tool for developing athletic ability. Coaches and athletes, however, need to remember that their competition/event is not in the weight room during training. Too high of volume or effort in strength training can lead to injury while lifting, as a result of lifting, or while in play.
Fatigue/Burnout: Athletes are humans! Youth athletes are humans. We get tired. This is not a moral failing. Doing anything too long at a high intensity will result in not just temporary fatigue, but systemic shutdown. When an athlete is exhausted, their ability to perform the skills necessary for their sport is significantly reduced. This inability to utilize their muscles correctly over a long period can cause additional imbalances when struggling with movement. Rest is not to be “earned” but to be included as the training plan.
Still Developing Tissue: As children and teens are still developing, their bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, are all in a state of growth and flux. Growth spurts especially present additional instability in tissue as it is developing a child’s body. This is crucial to consider when engaging in physical activity(sports) but also when considering recovery methods. Extreme stretching can lead to hypermobility and weakness in the joints and muscle tissue.
An injury is considered acute when considered severe with sudden onset. These types of injuries can occur as a result of a neglected muscular imbalance, falls, or physical contact with other players.
Higher contact activities carry additional risk of injury. Outside forces such as intentional tackling or unintentional colliding can cause damage to already imbalanced tissue.These pre-existing muscular asymmetries could have provided the conditions for the acute injury. Additionally an injured, imbalanced muscular system could prove to be more challenging to rehabilitate after an external force causes the injury.
Clinicians in the Sports Medicine field are seeking options in order to prevent or at least mitigate what seems like inevitable injuries in youth athletes. When pain, discomfort, or excess tension is reported by an adolescent, the advice is similar to that of adult athletes:
Rest: Depending on the severity of the injury, taking time off is necessary in order to let inflamed tissues to recover. This takes time away from training, and the athlete may come back at a deficit.
Heat/Ice: There are conflicting reports both for and against heat and/or ice. This method may bring some pain relief, but does not address mechanical muscular imbalances.
Stretching: When an athlete expresses “feeling tight” the advice is to stretch. It is very common for athletes to prioritize extreme levels of range of motion in their stretching practice. Our skeletons have ideal ranges of motion, and they can vary for each person. Taking soft-tissue to its absolute end potential can cause joint weakening and hypermobility. Unless the sport/activity calls for these extreme range of motion as expression of the athletic activity, (gymnastics, dance) it could serve to elevate additional risk of injury.
“Sports Massage”: A ubiquitous term without any standardized application. Generally referred to soft tissue therapy applied in conjunction with an athletic event. This says nothing to the techniques applied, knowledge of practitioners in a specific athlete’s sport, or integration with the athlete’s other team of professionals.
Physical Therapy: At this point, the injury is serious enough to seek out medical assistance. Time off from the activity is often prescribed to allow the PT to work on rested tissue.
Surgery: A major level of intervention in order to restore function and athletic ability after an injury. Time to rehabilitate and recover is required.
IBT Youth Athlete Program: Intervention, Standardization, Collaboration
One of the primary foundations of Integrated Biomechanic Therapy is competitive sport. The application of soft-tissue techniques, assessment and exercise as an early intervention in a competitive athlete’s career can serve to disrupt the biomechanical imbalances that can lead to devastating, career ending injuries.
Every sport has different demands on the body. If your “Sport’s Massage” is not tailored to the individual sport performed, specific body patterns are not addressed. Even different positions within the same sport may have different athletic actions. IBT Therapeutic Protocols are designed with each individual athlete’s sport and issues in mind. They can be integrated into a training program as overall maintenance and can be applied pre, peri, or post athletic activity.
IBT Practitioners, referred to as Biomechanics, are trained to collaborate with your child’s coach, trainer, or movement specialist. Observing the movement of the athlete in real time during training, drills, and practices allows dynamic discernment of mechanical dysfunction. Now a part of an athletic care team, communication between professionals is synergistic on the field, in the training room, and on the therapy table.
In the world of competitive sports, the worst fear for an athlete is a career ending injury. Its important to also remember that there is life after sports and pain conditions carry through. There is no way to 100% prevent injuries, but there are direct actions to be taken to mitigate the risks. Contact Integrated Biomechanic Therapy to see how we have helped athletes from all sports, all levels, and all abilities find relief from pain, improve performance and who can play another day.