For children, physical play is as natural as breathing. As soon as girls and boys can stand, they are dodging imaginary foes and winning races against invisible competitors – children’s foot injuries.
As they grow older, our children are increasingly drawn into organized play, i.e., youth sports. It is estimated that over 35 million children in the United States regularly participate in various sports programs.
Few activities are as beneficial to children as are sports. Participation in organized physical games improves a child’s health (both physical and mental), imparts the benefits of teamwork and self-control, and establishes healthy habits that can last a lifetime.
However, despite all of its benefits, healthy sports activity unavoidably leads to injuries. About 40% of the injuries incurred by our youth are related to sports, and approximately one third of school-age children will suffer a sports related injury serious enough to require treatment by a medical professional.
Responsible parents need to learn (1) some basic facts about foot and ankle anatomy, (2) how to prevent sports related foot and ankle injuries, (3) how to initially manage those injuries that will inevitably occur, and (4) when to enlist the aid of podiatric specialists.
Our ankles are a remarkably simple solution to a very complex problem: (a) how to immediately and continuously conform the position of our feet to the pace of our progress over whatever terrain we may be traversing, and (b) how to absorb the impacts generated by that progress.
In order to enable the most basic human transportation, the bones which connect the leg to the foot need to move in various directions, sometimes simultaneously. This convoluted set of gyrations is made possible by ligaments and tendons, the very tough (yet very supple) belts of fibrous collagen tissue which collectively strap the separate components of the ankle tightly together, while still allowing the flexibility demanded by healthy human activity, like a soccer match or a baseball game.
LIGAMENTS VS. TENDONS AND SPRAINS VS. STRAINS
Simply put, ligaments connect bones to bones, while tendons connect bones to muscle. An overstretching or tear of a ligament is known as a sprain, while the overstretching or tear of a tendon is known as a strain. Generally speaking, prevention and treatment of sprains and strains are functionally identical.
PREVENTING FOOT AND ANKLE INJURIES IN KIDS
The growth plates in children’s bones are not completed until their later teen years, and these immature bones, together with the surrounding tendons and ligaments, are more susceptible to both traumatic and stress injuries. So, although practice does lead toward perfection, proud parents with visions of future scholarships dancing in their heads, as well as ambitious coaches who may over-emphasize winning, need to recognize and avoid the perils of overtraining.
Proper footwear, including shoes specifically designed and constructed for a single sport, is also an important component of an effective sports injury prevention program. Don’t let your child’s sentimental attachment to that old worn-out, rundown pair of soccer boots keep you from providing shoes with complete lateral support and full-length cleats.
Parents can help coaches and referees examine playing fields in search of gopher holes, divots, and loose earth, all of which are nothing more than sprains and strains (or fractures) waiting to happen.
Parents should also make certain that their children’s coaches are committed to a program of systematic injury prevention, and that each coach is fully trained in advanced first aid.
Formal warm-ups, including supervised and thorough stretching exercises, should be part of every youthful athlete’s pre-game routine, and cool-down sessions, again including stretches, should follow every participation. Don’t forget adequate hydration.
Finally, but of paramount importance, a preseason physical examination by a podiatric professional, such as those offered by the physicians of UFAI, is valuable insurance against latent foot and ankle problems which can suddenly turn into serious and long-lasting injuries.
INITIAL INJURY MANAGEMENT
When a young athlete injures an ankle or foot during sports activity, he or she should stop playing immediately and leave the field or court. It may feel humiliating to be helped or carried out of a game, but trying to tough it out can lead to exacerbation of a previously minor injury.
If serious pain is experienced, or if the injured ankle/foot appears in any way misshapen or deformed, prompt professional medical treatment is required. Patients of UFAI are encouraged to telephonically contact us for same day appointments.
In the interval before obtaining podiatric attention, the affected foot/ankle should be immobilized, ice should be applied, the area should be compressed by use of athletic bandages, and the foot should be elevated. The acronym RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is a useful mnemonic device.
Ankle sprains and strains should be taken seriously, because an athlete who returns to practice or competition without allowing an ankle to properly heal is inviting chronic, perhaps lifelong, ankle instability problems.
UFAI IS READY, WILLING, AND ABLE TO HELP
Whether your young athlete’s ankle is injured by a slide tackle in soccer or by a hook slide in softball/baseball, the podiatric professionals at UFAI are available to provide the preventative examinations, initial treatment, and healing protocols which will minimize any injury interruptions in your All-Star’s meteoric career.
As a teaching institution, University Foot and Ankle Institute’s Fellowship Program is among the most advanced in the nation.
We at UFAI are driven to get our patients back to their normal activities with the highest level of function, in the least amount of time, using the least invasive treatments possible. From start to finish, we are with you every step of the way.
The UFAI Education Team works to help empower our patients and website visitors with the most up-to-date information about foot and ankle conditions, treatment options, recovery and injury prevention. Our goal is to pass on truly useful information to our readers.
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