Children naturally enjoy running and incorporate it into many of their sporting activities. While I would say that very few serious problems happen to children under 10, when they do occur, injuries are of two types: repetitive trauma and a single traumatic event.
Generally, children recover fast with little input, but an inexperienced physio can often over-treat the simple traumatic injuries. On the other hand, repetitive problems in children can sometimes be trivialised in the young athlete.
It is important to treat repetitive injuries seriously, as encouraging young athletes to ‘toughen up and play through the pain’ is not in the child’s best interest. This often leads to delayed healing or preclusion from sports, and can turn an easily treatable injury into one that becomes difficult to treat.
Those factors affecting a child sustaining an injury are:
1. Body make-up, bodyweight, posture and hormonal factors
2. Lack of an adequate warm-up
3. Physical maturity of the child compared to opponents
4. Degree of supervision of children playing sport
5. Lack of protective equipment
6. The amount of sport played, both per week and per session
Much like an adult, a child’s body needs time to recover and regenerate from training. When a child is growing, recovery is slower due to reduced bone strength. In addition, the growth plates at the end of the bones become extremely vulnerable to external forces. Repetitive or moderate- to high-intensity activities can easily overload the musculoskeletal system causing injuries, which is why it is not advisable for children to run too high a mileage. Children should ideally do a variety of sports with adequate time to recover during their growing phases.
Children still require good running shoes and advice regarding training, particularly if they are running on the road. Certain injuries tend to occur to certain age groups and sexes, so it is worth bearing this in mind and seeking information from a sports coach or fitness professional.
Knee swelling, pain and loss of function are not normal. Injuries that appear minor can have serious consequences. When in doubt, seek expert medical advice. It's better to be safe than sorry.
Graham Anderson is the clinical director at Balance Performance, which provides medically orientated multi-disciplinary sports physiotherapy and well-being for both the elite and amateur athletes. For more information, visit www.balancephysio.com or see www.facebook.com/BalancePerformanceLondon or www.twitter.com/BalancePhysio
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Fitness Professionals Ltd or Virtual Magazine. Consult a qualified health or fitness professional before making changes to your diet or exercise.