Organized Sports

Organized sports give youth the opportunity to learn social and physical skills as well as to have some fun. But, to maximize those benefits, a balance must be struck between health and safety. Physical therapy is often the bridge that aids young athletes in returning and maintaining balance caused from physical stress or injury due to sports. Using the optimal combination of science and inspiration, physical therapists provide comprehensive care to restore function, reduce pain and prevent re-injury.


Kory Bell is an expert in helping people reach their goal of returning to their sports after injury. Bell, a physical therapist, is the Director of Rehabilitation for the Sports Medicine Institute of Oregon at the Orthopedic & Fracture Clinic. Parenting Today consulted Bell regarding the physical therapy process and the role physical therapy plays for kids in athletics.


With millions of youths participating in sporting activities, the probability of acute injury or injury due to overuse occurring in those athletes is extremely high. “It’s very common for kids to go through physical therapy, with sports especially,” says Bell.


According to Bell, young athletes often experience some discomfort with athletic activity. While most such aches and pains are normal, as a parent, you need to know when it’s time to consult a physical therapist.


Bell advises that warning signs, such as persistent knee pain, pain that gets worse with the passage of time or pain that restricts sports activity or affects daily activity, are indicators that working with a physical therapist could be helpful. Physical therapists can provide screening and consulting services for the unique conditions in the growing athlete and for injury prevention. Consulting a physician is not necessarily a prerequisite to seeing a physical therapist, but Bell often recommends it. He advises parents to check with insurance providers for coverage.


Injury is almost a given for an active child. According to the American academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, more than 3.5 million kids under age 15 are treated each year in hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinics, ambulatory surgery centers and hospital emergency rooms for sports-related injuries.


There are a variety of common injuries for which children might require a physical therapist. Bell lists some of these injuries as: low back pain caused by chronic poor posture from gaming, heavy backpacks and hunching over computers; sport-caused low back pain as in gymnastics; sprains and strains; and overuse injuries resulting in growth plate problems as in Osgood-Slatter and Sever’s Disease.


Frustrated about an injury or recent surgery, kids can be anxious about the initial clinical visit. Will it hurt? How long will I have to do this? Why did I get injured and nobody else did? What the heck is going on here, anyway? A good sports physical therapist is sensitive to those concerns. For example, Bell breaks the ice with kids by referencing something the child is familiar with: a TV show, a song, or the sport they’re in. He makes a point to maintain eye contact, inquiring directly of the child about the injury and not necessarily the parent. Noting positive things the kids can do, such as their flexibility and strength, takes the focus off what they can’t do, such as return to their sport tomorrow, or even next week.


Just like the kids that are resistant to doing their homework, there are those who will protest doing their home exercise assignments. Physical therapists give young athletes guidance to heal and return to their sport. Bell makes it a point to explain how the exercises will benefit them by making them faster or improving their performance. On the flip side, he informs them how it will hurt them or their performance if they don’t do the exercises.


Motivating kids to want to continue in their athletic activity appropriately can be challenging. Bell offers some helpful tips:


• Keep it simple – limit to just a few core daily exercises.


• Do the exercises during a favorite TV show.


• Go off to the sidelines while the team is practicing.


He also says parents can offer moral support by doing the exercises with them.


Understanding the drive kids have to return to their sport as soon as possible after injury is important for the physical therapist to communicate. Bell’s goal is to help his patients get better as fast as possible, but safely. And, just like finishing the full course of antibiotics your physician has prescribed, even if your earache is gone, it’s important to complete the physical therapy process.  Bell explains there’s a reason for the injury and the exercises given are needed in order to create balance in the body. Otherwise, though the injury may appear healed, the body is left susceptible to repeat breakdown.


The difficulty lies in sidelining patients from participating in an upcoming game or tournament. Young athletes’ eagerness to get back to play as soon as possible can invite re-injury, which could end their sport altogether. That’s when Bell uses the common sense approach that “even if this was the Olympics, you can’t play because it would end your sport.”


The role of the physical therapist extends beyond the outpatient practice, to community outreach. Skilled physical therapists, like Bell, are also known as trusted resources for fitness and injury prevention programs such as anterior cruciate ligament injury prevention for sports club organizations. A successful physical therapy program for young athletes requires the teamwork of the patient, parents or guardians, coaches and medical professionals.


From soccer to swimming, athletic kids are likely to experience some form of injury at some point. A sports medicine physical therapist can be a young athlete’s best advocate with a therapy plan that will enhance their performance, ensure their well-being and help them manage a return to their activity as quickly and safely as possible.

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