Reducing the Risk of Injury in Young Athletes Through Sport-Specific Strengthening Programs - By Samantha Ashford PT, DPT
Most people assume that physical therapy is only warranted for those who are injured, recently had surgery, or for your 80-year old grandparent with balance issues. Yes, PT is beneficial for those particular instances yet it can be a source of reducing your risk of injury as well, particularly with athletes. Given the rigorous schedule of competitive sports nowadays, many athletes do not realize they have an underlying weakness or muscle imbalance until it causes an injury and forces them to be “sidelined” for an extended time.
A common finding amongst athletes as young as 8 years old is weak hip and core muscles, particularly in females. Weakness in these muscles can lead to numerous conditions that can actually be avoided by implementing a targeted strengthening program. For example, a volleyball player with weak hip muscles may eventually experience anterior knee pain caused by poor tracking of the patella, a condition known as patellofemoral pain syndrome. When a jumping athlete has weakness in the gluteus medius and minimus, upon landing their knees may cave inward, stressing the patellar cartilage and causing pain. Other conditions which may result from weak hip and core muscles include back pain, plantar fasciitis, patellar tendinitis, and greater trochanter bursitis.
Throwing athletes with weak hip and core muscles are just as vulnerable for developing an injury over time. As baseball pitcher throws, a great amount of force is generated from his core and hips to increase the velocity of the pitch. If weakness exists in these areas, he may compensate by generating excess force at his shoulder and elbow. Over time, this repetitive overuse can lead to rotator cuff tears as well as tears to the labrum (the cartilage of the shoulder). Another common condition is an ulnar collateral ligament sprain or tear, also known as “Little League elbow”. Such injuries can force a pitcher to sit out of games for several weeks to rest and give the structures time to heal.
Too many athletes are injured each year, and in many cases the risk for injury could have been reduced if appropriate preventative measures were taken. A physical therapist or an athletic trainer can easily assess for specific muscle imbalances and then create a personalized, sport-specific exercise program. Many PT clinics such as Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy in Louisville & Lexington, KY and Performance Physical Therapy in Nicholasville, KY offer such programs for athletes of all levels for a weekly fee. By incorporating sport-specific strengthening exercises into an athlete’s regular training routine, they can reduce their chances of acquiring an injury that takes them out of the game. Furthermore, many athletes are surprised to find that focusing on total-body strengthening rather than specific body groups greatly improves their sport performance.