Sports participation is a leading cause of injury in young people. Injuries can have both short- and long-term consequences. An injury can immediately sideline a player, putting both the fun of participation and the health benefits of exercise on hold. An injury that keeps a child out of the game over the long term can increase the chances of gaining weight, becoming less fit in general, and even developing arthritis in later years.
It may not be always possible to avoid injury when playing sports, especially physical contact sports, but participants can help protect themselves by properly preparing before and after a game or practice session by warming up muscles and then stretching.
Whether the activity is skiing, running, or playing a group sport such as basketball or football, stretching keeps the body flexible, and that can cut down on injuries, knee and ankle injuries in particular. Stretching again after activity should be part of an injury prevention plan, too.
Before any kind of physical activity, including stretching, the body needs to be warmed up with some light exercise. Walking, running in place, or doing jumping jacks for a few minutes will warm up muscles.
Once muscles are warm, they're ready for these stretches, each of which should be repeated three to six times:
Forward lunge. Kneel on one knee. Place the other leg forward at a right angle (knee right over ankle). Lean forward to feel the stretch in the inner thigh. Hold for five seconds. Repeat several times. Switch legs.
Side lunge. Stand with feet far apart. Bend one leg and lean toward that knee. Hold for five seconds. Repeat several times, then bend and lean toward the opposite leg.
Standing quad (thigh) stretch. Use a wall or chair for support. Raise one foot behind you. Use the hand on the same side of the body to pull the foot up toward the buttocks, stretching the thigh. Keep the knees close. Hold for five seconds, then release. Repeat several times. Switch legs.
Seat straddle lotus. Sit down with the soles of the feet together in front of you, pressing knees to the floor. Place the forearms on the inside of the knees. Push down as you lean toward the ground. Lean forward from the hips. Hold for five seconds. Repeat several times.
Side seat straddle. Sit on the floor, legs spread apart. With both hands, hold onto the shin of one leg. Lean forward, chin to knee. Hold for five seconds. Repeat. Switch legs.
Seat stretch. Sit with legs straight out in front. Holding shins or ankles, lean forward from the hips. Bring the chin toward the knees. Hold for five seconds. Repeat several times.
Knees to chest. Lying on the floor, bend knees and bring them to the chest. Rock gently. Hold for five seconds. Repeat several times.
After every workout, repeat these same stretches to help the body cool down and increase flexibility while muscles are still warm.
Don't bounce when stretching. Bouncing in a stretch can cause damage.
Take it slow. There's no prize for finishing a stretching routine first. Go slowly to get all the benefit.
Stay fit year-round. It's a good idea for your child to keep in shape even during the sport's off-season so that he or she is ready for competition when it starts up again.
Find the appropriate gear for your child to wear. Kneepads and other kinds of protective padding should help reduce injury.
Respect an injury. If your child already has a sprain or other injury, check with the pediatrician or sports trainer before he or she gets back into action.