Is My Student Athlete's Pain More Than Just Growing Pains?

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There are a few factors that can make student athletes prone to injury: They might be overusing their muscles (thanks to a more rigorous exercise regimen) and they might not yet have developed the proper technique for their sport.

“These factors, combined with the fact that student athletes have growing bodies that they’re still getting used to—especially after a growth spurt—can make them more prone to injury,” says Nancy White, M.D., a sports medicine physician with Henry Ford Health System.

However, just because your child is feeling pain doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve sustained an injury. There is such a thing as growing pains, although the term may be misleading. “Most experts feel that growth itself does not cause pain,” says Dr. White. “The most likely reason for ‘growing pains’ is overuse of the muscles, causing pain and soreness after an activity.”

These growing pains typically occur at the front of the thighs, the back of the knees and the calves, she says, and occur commonly in the late afternoon, evening, or night. If your child is experiencing pain outside of these areas or times of day, it might not be growing pains—and it’s a good idea to get it checked out by a doctor.

Tell-Tale Signs That Pain Should Be Examined 

If the pain goes away by the next day—if your child has rested during night and feels better the next morning—there’s no need for concern. But you should head to the doctor if:

  • the pain is lingering into the next day.
  • the pain is also accompanied by bruising, swelling or redness.
  • the pain is so intense that they’re unable to put weight on their legs.

“In these cases, don’t wait—the longer you wait, the more dangerous the injury can become,” says Dr. White.

How Student Athletes Can Help Prevent Injuries 

Encourage your child to take proper precautions and maintain healthy habits, all of which can lower the likelihood that they’ll sustain an injury. Dr. White recommends the following tips:

  1. Maintain proper technique. “Knowing and understanding the movements needed for whatever sport they practice is so important,” says Dr. White. “Figure skating and gymnastics are two sports where I tend to see injuries more often during growth phases. These athletes are often learning difficult skills at a time in their lives when they’re going through a growth spurt, and that combination can lead to injury.”
  2. Stretch before and after playing a sport. “Try dynamic stretching—where you’re actually moving while stretching—instead of static stretching, where you’re holding the stretch,” says Dr. White. “Dynamic stretching is a great warm up. It can help improve flexibility and reduce the risk of injury.”
  3. Strength train, especially in the core and limbs. Doing so will help create stable, strong muscles to keep the body properly aligned and lessen the chances of injury.
  4. Eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated. While it’s normal for kids to have sugar every once in a while, filling the bulk of their diet with plenty of water, fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy protein, fats and carbohydrates will help them function to their best ability.
  5. Get enough rest each night. Sleep is necessary for health and well-being in general, but when it comes to athletes, rest is incredibly important to help their bodies recuperate. In general, kids need about 10 hours of sleep per night, so if your child plays a sport, you want to really be sure that they’re hitting that 10-hour mark, says Dr. White.
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To find a sports medicine physician at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936

Dr. Nancy White is a sports medicine physician with Henry Ford Health System. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Columbus in Novi and Henry Ford Medical Center—Bloomfield Township.

Categories: MoveWell