August 15, 2008

Preparation key to avoid risk of back-to-school sports injuries

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Staying active during the summer helps young athletes such as Carter Hendrey, 9, when they return to school and organized sports. (photo by Neil Brake)

Preparation key to avoid risk of back-to-school sports injuries

After spending their summer break in the air conditioning, sleeping late and exercising little more than their thumbs with video games, many young athletes returning to practice for fall sports are at high risk for injury and heat illness.

According to Mitch Bellamy, manager at the Vanderbilt Orthopaedic Institute overseeing the sports medicine high school outreach program, the early weeks of August bring a higher risk of injury because athletes are not prepared.

“No question, athletes should work to be more prepared in the summer and keep a regular exercise routine,” he said.

Athletes who have not maintained their conditioning level over the summer are more likely to experience muscular-skeletal injuries because the muscles fatigue more easily.

Staying active also builds a better awareness of the body and its limitations, said Merideth Cooper, assistant director of orthopaedic administration.

Both Bellamy and Cooper agree that following a training program over the summer is the best way to prepare for fall sports, but now that practice is in session, focus should be on taking care of the body, especially in high summer temperatures.

Bellamy said it takes 10-14 days to get acclimated to heat, and more for younger children. Conditioning should be done in the early morning or late evening, and athletes should wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothing. There should be no outside activity at a heat index of 104 degrees.

“In the last five to 10 years, everybody has learned a lot about challenges with the heat. It's much easier because coaches understand the dangers,” Bellamy said.

Signs of heat illness include:

• Headache

• Dizziness

• Nausea

• Rapid pulse

• Vomiting

• Diarrhea

• Fatigue

• Confusion

• Shallow breathing

• Muscle cramps

“At any of these signs, athletes should stop activity, tell their certified athletic trainer or coach and they should go to a cool place and replenish fluids,” said Bellamy, who also warned about the dangers of 'toughing it out.'

“There is a fine line of what to push through and what not to.”

Although most athletes know about proper hydration, Bellamy said many are coming to practice without proper nutrition.

“No question, the big problem with athletes is not eating. The ones who get in trouble with fatigue are the ones who haven't eaten anything. Parents should make sure they eat a balanced meal before practice,” he said.

Cooper agrees, saying parents should make sure their children are getting enough carbohydrates like pasta, potatoes, rice and whole wheat bread.

“Athletes should increase calories, but they should be good calories that are needed for exercising muscle,” she said.

Hydration schedule:

• 24 hours before activity — eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids, and avoid caffeine because it speeds the rate of fluid loss.

• Two hours before — drink 16-20 ounces of water or a sports drink.

• 20 minutes before — drink 10 ounces.

• During activity — drink 8-10 ounces. every 15-20 minutes.

• After activity — drink 16 ounces. for every pound of body weight lost during exercise, and complete the fluid replacement prior to the next practice session.