Proper conditioning, training and equipment are essential in avoiding injuries as student athletes return to playing fields and courts after what, for some, is their longest absence from play and practice.
The hiatus forced by COVID lockdowns and restrictions has taken its toll. As things have reopened, I’ve seen the results of too much too soon: a half dozen shin splint injuries per week in my work as an orthopedist for teams at Bergen Catholic High School and Fairleigh Dickinson University.
All about the Knees
Shin splints mostly affect those playing running sports, including soccer. Shoulder injuries are relatively common, too. But, overall, knee injuries are the most common injuries experienced by high school and collegiate athletes.
Knee injuries can be complex, but they fall into two broad categories: acute and overuse.
- Acute injuries stem from a sudden trauma and include sprains, torn ligaments and fractures. The most common major knee injuries among teens are tears in the medial collateral ligament (MCL), the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the meniscus, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Female athletes, particularly soccer players, are especially vulnerable to some of those injuries. Acute knee injuries are likely to require surgical intervention. The good news in this bad situation is that there have been significant advances in arthroscopic surgery that make incisions smaller, infection less likely and recovery easier.
- Overuse injuries can result from training errors or from repetitive stress that causes damage to bones, muscles, ligaments or tendons. Overuse knee injuries are common and usually painful, including “runner’s knee” or tendinitis. They can generally be treated with rest, ice and physical therapy. Some of these injuries result from a hyper-competitive youth sports culture and year-round play.
Both acute and overuse injuries are painful and can sideline student athletes physically and emotionally. Prevention is key.
Worth a pound of cure
Injury prevention starts before play or practice. Student athletes need to train for their sports and not expect that playing or practice will get them back in shape:
- Strength training develops the hamstrings and quads – the muscles surrounding the knee – and can go a long way in protecting the joint.
- Endurance and flexibility training should also be undertaken before the sports season begins. Coaches should encourage aerobic conditioning and structured warm-up and stretching routines.
- Proper equipment, technique and hydration are critical. Replace those worn-out shoes, wear the appropriate protective gear, follow the advice of trainers and coaches, and drink plenty of water.
- Rest should be part of your routine. Limit the number of teams you play on to one or two per season. Don’t push yourself when you’re fatigued, and don’t play if you’re hurt. Listen to your body!
- Change it up. Do not play one sport all year round. Multiple sports develop different parts of the body and allow others to rest; take some downtime between sports or seasons.
The onus is on all of us - athletes, parents, trainers and coaches – to work to avoid injuries.
Dr. Dennis J. Pfisterer, Jr., treats all types of orthopedic injuries, with surgical and non-surgical treatment options. He is skilled in many innovative techniques, such as arthroscopic and endoscopic surgery and minimally invasive surgery. He is the team orthopedic surgeon for Bergen Catholic High School and Fairleigh Dickinson University. Dr. Pfisterer is in practice with his father, orthopedic surgeon Dennis Pfisterer, Sr., MD, and sister, Christine Pfisterer, DO, chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Holy Name, at the Northern Jersey Orthopedic Center on Palisade Avenue in Teaneck. For an in-person or telemedicine appointment, call 201-836-1663 or visit HolyNameMedicalPartners.org.