Back to school means back to sports – and the risk of injury that comes with them.
“Being aware of the injury potential of your sport and proactively seeking ways to prevent such injuries is critical,” says Dr. Jennifer Beck, a pediatric sports medicine physician at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica.
Every sport has its own inherent risks, but one competitive sport – cheerleading – often is overlooked.
“There’s increasing recognition of cheerleading as a sport,” says Beck, who notes that starting with the 2017-18 school year, it will be designated as a California Interscholastic Federation sport, and therefore overseen by CIF guidelines and standards.
“Cheerleaders have often trained in poorly equipped facilities – or even outside on the grass – with little if any protective gear,” said Beck, who is also a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. “When you consider that they are training to perform towering pyramids and dramatic tumbling sequences, it’s not surprising that the sport has a very high injury rate – particularly head and neck injuries.”
Beck urges all athletes to:
- Prioritize good nutrition and proper hydration. Heat illness and dehydration are concerns at any time but are especially common during intensive summer training camps.
- Stretch, warm up and cool down for practices and games or competitions.
- Practice and use proper techniques, such as tackling in football; tumbling in gymnastics; or running, jumping and landing in basketball and track events.
In addition, football and soccer players should wear all the recommended safety equipment – especially helmets and pads – and be sure it fits correctly. Cheerleaders and gymnasts are advised to
train only in properly equipped facilities featuring recommended safety equipment, including quality tumbling mats. For basketball players and track-and-field competitors, Beck warns of pushing too hard because overuse leads to injury. She also recommends taking time off because rest is an important part of the training cycle. Overtraining can lead to stress fractures and other injuries.
Even with the best precautions, injuries can happen. If pain or swelling lasts more than a few days or gets worse, it is time to seek medical care, Beck says.
“And parents, if your athlete suddenly starts taking himself or herself out of the sport, they may have an injury or concern that needs to be checked,” she adds.
Beck will give a free community health talk on sport safety for youth athletes, offering tips for parents, coaches and school administrators, at 7 p.m. Aug. 24. She also will review ways to prevent common musculoskeletal injuries.
The presentation will be at the Santa Monica Family YMCA, 1332 6th St. in Santa Monica. The YMCA will provide free supervised child activities during this seminar for adults. For more information, call (800) 516-5323 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.