Has your child started showing a keener interest in physical activity or, taken an interest in a particular sport? Firstly, this is wonderful! The benefits of physical activity and sports cannot be understated. This includes everything from promoting physical fitness, healthy behaviours, positive habits, social interaction, teamwork, and self-esteem.
Your child or adolescent may be starting to get more active, or showing an interest in sports. They may be keen to take on more school sport, or perhaps join a local club and play competitively. It may be worth having a conversation and an assessment with a health professional, such as a Physiotherapist about how best to prepare and look after a growing body for physical activity and to exercise safely (while having fun in the process). Consultation and assessment with a GP can also be a worthwhile idea as part of pre-participation in sport or activity if you have any concerns around longer-term health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, or heart-related conditions for example (amongst others).
Some young people may already be well on their journey (hopefully a lifelong one) into sport but starting to show some signs and symptoms of what’s commonly referred to as ‘growing pains’. Often these sorts of aches/pains occur around the feet/heels, or knees. Though these are not the only regions or conditions seen. They are usually in response to accelerated bone growth, leaving tight muscles to generate more tension where they attach. This is commonly seen in conditions like “Severs” (Achilles tendon) or, Osgood-Schlatter” (patellar tendon). We’ll endeavour to write more about these two particular common conditions seen in children and adolescents in future posts.
From a physical activity perspective; it may be worth seeking the input of a physiotherapist to discuss the following:
- Posture: One of the obvious stressors to a young body is posture. This is part of normal growing. However, when we couple this with hours spent hunched over desks/books at school, doing homework, carrying heavy backpacks, this can be a lot of stress on an immature and developing body. This is not to mention the increasing impact mobile phones, tablets, computer game consoles, and laptops propped on laps while sitting on one’s bed, are having.
- Exercise: Formal guidelines from the Australian government about physical activity for children and young people can be found here https://tinyurl.com/txp6tba. Formal guidance contains advice about type, frequency, intensity, volume, and load. However, this is general. Having a discussion with a Physiotherapist might help to get a bit more specific about a child’s or young person’s unique situation.
- Protective or assistive equipment, and footwear: While we can’t understate the value of exercises, such as strengthening, stretching, and balance training to improve muscle function, range of movement, and biomechanics; certain sports will require consideration around protective gear, such as braces, helmets, guards, and shoes. This may result in advice about purchasing certain equipment or products. Physiotherapists also work closely with doctors, and podiatrists for example, and if some situations require referral, or further input, this can be advised too.
When is the best time to start or, consult a professional?
The above list is not exhaustive, and we need to be mindful that injuries, aches, and pains can still occur despite preparation. But anytime is a good time start forming good habits, and to have a conversation with a professional about physical activity and sport. For example, starting with a simple assessment, or screening to look at movement and biomechanical patterns means planning can be individualised enough to try and minimise injury risk, or predispositions to injury1.
Be physically active and/or playing sports can be the start of a lifelong positive relationship with health and wellbeing. Some of the best times and memories come from the playground and sports field. Looking after young bodies and getting into a good mindset about taking care of ourselves from an early age can pay dividends into the future. Enjoy.
Dr. Mark Merolli
Dr Merolli is one of our Physiotherapists. He has a keen interest in adolescent health. He has worked with several junior elite and recreational sporting organisations, including Tennis Australia’s junior program, Melbourne Victory youth squad, and various other Aussie rules, basketball, and soccer clubs. He regularly lectures and teaches to Victorian school students about sports medicine, and managing injuries from a young age.
Note: The information in this post is for general informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice, and should not replace thorough and individualised assessment with a health professional.
Cook G, Burton L, Hoogenboom B. Pre-participation screening: the use of fundamental movement as an assessment of function – part 1. N Am J Sport Phys Ther 2006;1(2):62-72