Handling Two Of The Most Common Knee Injuries In Youth Sports
One former President once remarked that all children should play sports, even if they never make an All-Star team or even get any meaningful playing time. It sounds cliche, but sports builds character. Among other things, children learn how to work towards a goal, how to sacrifice for the common good, and the feelings of elation associated with success.
Many youth sports are more competitive than ever before, as evidenced in shows like Friday Night Tykes on Netflix. For the most part, this competition is a good thing, because it builds better athletes and more character. However, the risk of injury is also higher than it ever has been before, so parents and caregivers should know how to deal with some common sports-related knee injuries.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome is a generic term for lots of knee injuries which are rather mild but nonetheless very painful. Furthermore, if not treated straightaway, they could turn into something worse and become significant; PFPS also increases the risk of other more serious injuries. Some specific types of PFPS include:
- Runner’s Knee: This injury affects the joint underneath the kneecap (patella). It usually causes localized pain in the front of the knee. Runner’s Knee could be an overuse injury or a trauma injury, which is why it’s common in both contact and non-contact sports.
- Jumper’s Knee: Patellar tendinitis is an inflammation of the tendon which connects the patella to the shinbone (tibia). As the name implies, incorrect landing after jumping almost always causes this injury. Girls are more susceptible to PT and other jumping injuries than boys.
- Osgood-Schlatter Disease: This knee condition is usually unique to children. Injury occurs in the same area as PT and has a similar effect, but the cause is not misuse but an irritated growth plate.
It’s very important that PFPS, and any other knee injury, be completely healed before the child resumes normal activity, because the risk for re-injury in growing bodies is simply too great. Fortunately, most kids bounce back rather quickly from mild injuries such as this, especially if caregivers ensure that they follow the RICE method:
- Rest: It’s not always easy to get active kids to stay still and rest their injured joints, but that’s one of the best ways for these injuries to heal, because inflamed tendons and irritated muscles normally get better on their own. Recovering athletes can often cross-train, perhaps by swimming or another activity that places zero stress on the injured area.
- Ice: The research goes back and forth over the effectiveness of cold therapy, but most people agree that twenty minutes of ice several times a day eases pain and reduces swelling. If the surrounding skin turns white, you are over-icing the injury.
- Compression: A tightly-wrapped ACE bandage or strip of KT tape supports the area while the muscles heal and also reduces inflammation. A specially-designed compression sleeve to stabilize your knee joint is even better.
- Elevation: While your little All Star plays video games and stay off the injured knee, be sure s/he keeps the knee elevated above the heart, at least most of the time. Too much elevation restricts blood flow, and that may actually slow the healing process.
Discourage the use of even mild painkillers that simply mask the injury, because if the knee feels better, kids may resume activity before their bodies are truly ready to do so.
Cartilage and Ligament Injuries
The RICE method, along with some rehabilitation exercises, often works with Grade 1 ACL or MCL (anterior cruciate ligament or medial collateral ligament) sprains. These injuries are nearly always trauma injuries, usually due to a blow to the side of the knee. Improper jumping may cause these injuries as well, especially among girls. Grade 3 tears often require surgical correction, so be sure a doctor properly diagnoses the injury.
If your child cannot put weight on the knee or there is a visible deformity, never encourage the athlete to “walk it off.” Instead, have a doctor or team trainer look at it straightaway.