Physiotherapy for Young Competitive Athletes

More and more children are playing competitive sports at a young age now. Sometimes kids as young as seven or eight years old are playing the same sport five or six times a week. This takes its toll on a developing body.

When children get injured we tend to think they will just bounce back, and indeed they appear to. I officiate ringette at a very high level and sometimes I see girls go flying into the boards at high speed. Amazingly they get right back up and keep playing when we adults would be crumpled there in a heap and have difficulty getting out of bed the next day. Does this mean that the child’s body has received any less traumatic force than that of an adult? No, it just means that they handle it differently.

Beanbags versus Eggs

Think of it like a beanbag versus a raw egg. If I drop a beanbag off the counter, when it hits the floor it stays there but it is intact. If I drop the egg off the counter, well we all know what kind of mess that makes when it explodes. Both objects hit the floor with approximately the same force, yet why are the results totally different?

The beanbag absorbed the force more efficiently. Because the beans inside are very mobile and the casing is pliable, the force can be more easily absorbed, so the object stays intact. The egg, on the other hand, doesn’t have as much ability to absorb the force and the casing is more fragile so, kaboom. Yucky mess.

Children’s bodies are much more efficient at absorbing impact than those of adults for two main reasons. First of all, they are generally more mobile and pliable, just like the beanbag. The second reason requires a bit more explanation.

Where Does All That Energy Go?

When we sustain an impact, (whether that be a fall, someone running into us, or getting hit by an object like a soccer ball) our bodies absorb all of that force. The question is, where does all that energy go? It is stored in the soft tissues of the body. This includes muscles, organs, and connective tissue. Connective tissue is the matrix that holds everything in the body in place. It encases every muscle, organ, blood vessel, and important structure in the body and connects us from stem to stern, so tightness in one area of the matrix can have far reaching effects.

This traumatic energy is stored in the form of tightness in the soft tissues, and most importantly, it will stay there indefinitely until it is released. This means that each time we sustain an impact of any sort and don’t treat it, we accumulate tightness and restriction in our bodies somewhere, usually far from the area that sustained the impact. The reason adults are more like an egg than a beanbag is due to a lifetime of accumulated tightness from trauma that has never been treated. Over time we become less mobile and pliable so when we are 40 and crash into the boards during a ringette game we don’t get up.

The Effects of Repeated Impacts

Young children don’t have this history of trauma and accumulated traumatic energy absorption leading to tightness. That is, until they start sustaining repeated impacts, which is not uncommon for competitive young athletes. I have seen children as young as eight or ten coming to see me with chronic injuries. Somehow I don’t think the word “chronic” even belongs in the same sentence as “young child”, yet I am seeing it.

This is happening because when the child gets up and keeps going after a big impact, we assume they are fine. I assure you they are not. They may only complain of minor discomfort at the time, but the energy has been absorbed and has created a problem somewhere. After the next big impact, they may still not complain of significant pain, but after the third or fourth you are likely to hear about it.

Because children are so pliable, it can take quite a while before the pain becomes great enough for them to mention anything to you. Even then, we tell ourselves “they’ll bounce back”, because who takes a kid with a few aches and pains to see a health practitioner for treatment? So we wait until the pain becomes enough that the child can no longer participate in sport.

Avoid the BIG One

By the time this happens I see children with multiple issues, tightness everywhere, and significant alignment problems. The fortunate ones come for treatment before having a serious injury such as a blown out knee, but for the less fortunate we often say that the big injury occurred “out of nowhere”. Now you know why these things don’t come from nowhere. They are the result of multiple untreated traumas.

Statistics show that serious injuries in young competitive athletes are on the rise. Don’t let your child become a statistic. Get them treatment the first time. Find a practitioner who will do a full body assessment and find the root cause of the problem.

P.S. If you would like to know what I mean by a “big impact” check out this blog on what I call the Cringe Test


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