Is My Student Athlete's Pain More Than Just Growing Pains?

July 27, 2021

There are a few factors that can make student athletes prone to injury. They might be overusing their muscles (thanks to a more rigorous exercise regimen), and they might not yet have developed the proper technique for their sport.

“These factors, combined with the fact that student athletes have growing bodies that they’re still getting used to—especially after a growth spurt — can make them more prone to injury,” says Nancy White, M.D., a sports medicine physician with Henry Ford Health System.

However, just because your child is feeling pain doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve sustained an injury. There is such a thing as growing pains, although the term may be misleading. “Most experts feel that growth itself does not cause pain,” says Dr. White. “The most likely reason for ‘growing pains’ is overuse of the muscles, causing pain and soreness after an activity.”

These growing pains typically occur at the front of the thighs, the back of the knees and the calves, she says, and occur commonly in the late afternoon, evening, or night. If your child is experiencing pain outside of these areas or times of day, it might not be growing pains — and it’s a good idea to get it checked out by a doctor.

Tell-Tale Signs That Pain Should Be Examined

If the pain goes away by the next day — if your child has rested during night and feels better the next morning — there’s no need for concern. But you should head to the doctor if:

► the pain is lingering into the next day.

► the pain is also accompanied by bruising, swelling or redness.

► the pain is so intense that they’re unable to put weight on their legs.

“In these cases, don’t wait — the longer you wait, the more dangerous the injury can become,” says Dr. White.

How Student Athletes Can Help Prevent Injuries

Encourage your child to take proper precautions and maintain healthy habits, all of which can lower the likelihood that they’ll sustain an injury. Dr. White recommends the following tips:

  1. Maintain proper technique. “Knowing and understanding the movements needed for whatever sport they practice is so important,” says Dr. White. “Figure skating and gymnastics are two sports where I tend to see injuries more often during growth phases. These athletes are often learning difficult skills at a time in their lives when they’re going through a growth spurt, and that combination can lead to injury.”

  2. Stretch before and after playing a sport. “Try dynamic stretching — where you’re actually moving while stretching — instead of static stretching, where you’re holding the stretch,” says Dr. White. “Dynamic stretching is a great warm up. It can help improve flexibility and reduce the risk of injury.”

  3. Strength train, especially in the core and limbs. Doing so will help create stable, strong muscles to keep the body properly aligned and lessen the chances of injury.

  4. Eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated. While it’s normal for kids to have sugar every once in a while, filling the bulk of their diet with plenty of water, fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy protein, fats and carbohydrates will help them function to their best ability.

  5. Get enough rest each night. Sleep is necessary for health and well-being in general, but when it comes to athletes, rest is incredibly important to help their bodies recuperate. In general, kids need about 10 hours of sleep per night. So if your child plays a sport, you want to really be sure that they’re hitting that 10-hour mark, says Dr. White.

Dr. Nancy White is a sports medicine physician with Henry Ford Health System. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Columbus in Novi, and Henry Ford Medical Center — Bloomfield Township.

Want to learn more? Henry Ford Health System sports medicine experts are treating the whole athlete, in a whole new way. From nutrition to neurology, and from injury prevention to treatment of sports-related conditions, they can give your athlete a unique game plan. To find a sports medicine physician at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936

Sports Injuries & Student Athletes: A Parent’s Guide

February 6, 2024

Playing sports is a great way for children of all ages to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It also builds confidence and teaches them valuable life lessons, like working as a team and the value of hard work. While it may be every sports fanatic’s dream to have their kid make it big time in the arena or on the diamond, sometimes pushing young athletes to be the best at a young age can lead to serious injuries that will take them out of the game altogether.

Henry Ford Health"Sports help with physical and psychological well-being," says Matthew Santa Barbara, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. "However, year-round participation in a single sport at a young age can lead to overuse injuries and mental burnout."

Nowadays, many kids will start playing one sport at a young age and continue to play that same sport year-round for years. This can be harmful to your child because his or her soft tissue and bone structures aren't fully developed. Furthermore, the pressures of year-round participation and focus on excelling, rather than enjoyment, can negatively affect a young athlete's mental health.

Basketball causes the most injuries among high schoolers, causing many visits to the emergency room each year for stressed and torn ankle ligaments. In baseball, the Tommy John surgery, a procedure to reconstruct torn ligaments in the elbow after overuse, has also been increasingly used to treat young athletes still in high school.

How To Prevent Sports Injuries

Preparing your children appropriately before a sports season begins and supporting them during the season is important. Dr. Santa Barbara offers four key pieces of advice to help your youth athletes avoid injury.

1. Don’t limit your child to one sport. Playing a variety of sports in different seasons is a great way to work different parts of the body. When your child gets older, they can make the transition to playing a single sport they are good at and enjoy.

2. Warm up. Make sure your child is properly warming up before they play any sport. Dynamic warmups--incorporating exercises that involve moving the body such as lunges, high knees and arm circles – are preferable to stretching alone.

3. Strengthen core muscles. Building up core strength takes pressure off joints in the arms and legs. It gives young athletes more momentum and can help improve their performance.

4. Abide by rest rules. Many schools and sports leagues have rules in place to limit how many teams kids are on or how often they play. Follow these to ensure your child is allowing time for their joints and muscles to recover from physical activity.

Children participating in a sport should never push through pain, and injuries should be promptly evaluated by a sports medicine physician. Physical injuries are often more obvious, while mental health issues due to sports participation can be more subtle. Symptoms such as fatigue and declining performance can be signs of burnout. In these situations, rest is also important.

"Sports should be fun for kids," says Dr. Santa Barbara. "Avoiding single-sports specialization at a young age keeps the focus on enjoyment while reducing the physical and psychological risks of year-round participation."

To find a sports medicine provider at Henry Ford Health, visit henryford.com/sportsmedicine or call 313-651-1969.

Matthew Santa Barbara, M.D., is a non-operative sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit, Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, Henry Ford Medical Center - Columbus, Henry Ford Medical Center - Bloomfield Township and Henry Ford Medical Center - Fairlane.