Knee Pain in Young Athletes: How to Prevent, Evaluate, and Manage
Encouraging our youth to participate in athletics instills a sense of self-confidence, comradery, and communication at a young age, however, many are concerned about injuries that can accompany playing sports. Unfortunately, injuries are sometimes unavoidable, however, there are steps that can be taken to prevent injury occurrence and properly evaluate and manage once an injury has occurred.
Overuse injuries occur in athletes of all ages, however, they are most common in youth just getting into athletics. Factors that typically contribute to overuse injuries are sudden increase in intensity, duration, and volume of physical activity, poor sport-specific training/conditioning, and improper training techniques.
- Build intensity, duration, and volume gradually. Whether participating in team or individual workouts, it is crucial to follow a proper progression that is tailored to the athlete. Strength and conditioning coaches or athletic trainers are an excellent resource when determining a plan of progression. If you do not have access to either of these, a good rule of thumb is to first increase repetitions, followed by sets, and finally weight over the course of several weeks. The knees face wear and tear from everyday activities; following these steps allows the body to adjust to a higher demand without risking overuse.
- Ensure training is sport-specific. Both conditioning and practice should mirror the sport itself. For example, a football player running agility drills conditions the body for quick maneuvers that stress ligaments and musculature within the knee that are necessary in a game-situation. All drills, training, and practices should be used to physically prepare the athlete for competition.
- Utilize proper techniques. It is important to perform exercises that are sport-specific, but performing them correctly is even more crucial. A large portion of athlete injuries occur in the weight room or at practice due to improper form or inadequate warm-up. Whether a coach or athletic trainer, an experienced individual should always be present during workouts and practice to correct improper form. Warm-ups are commonly overlooked, however, they are a major component in knee injury prevention. Stretching and doing light cardio, such as jogging or biking, helps acclimate the body for more intense physical activity.
If an injury has occurred, there are several steps that need to be taken based on the severity of the event.
- Overuse injuries can often be treated at home with rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Taking time off from the sport allows the body a chance to heal itself; the amount of time needed is dependent on the injury and symptoms. Ice will help reduce any pain and swelling; you may ice for 20 minutes, 3-4 times per day. Be sure to monitor the skin for any irritation the ice may cause. Compression also helps combat swelling; use a bandage to apply pressure to the knee. To ensure the bandage is not too tight, check capillary refill by squeezing the nail bed of the toes and ensuring blood flow returns to the area. Finally, elevate the leg while resting to reduce inflammation.
- If a sudden, acute injury such as a fracture, dislocation, or ligament tear has occurred, the athlete should be seen by a physician immediately. After acute care is provided, a referral to an orthopaedic surgeon may be necessary.
An orthopaedic surgeon is the best resource to help plan a course of action after a knee injury. Whether or not surgery is necessary, an orthopaedic surgeon can offer alternative options, manage pain, and provide referrals to physical therapy if needed. Don’t be afraid to utilize resources! On our webpage, we have made rehab exercises, eBooks, appointment requests, and much more available.
Why O’Grady Orthopaedics?
Dr. Christopher O’Grady of O’Grady Orthopaedics is specialized in performing knee and shoulder surgeries. As an Arthroscopy Association of North America instructor, he focuses on cutting-edge, advanced surgical techniques, ensuring he’s up to date on the latest techniques. Every patient is offered the highest level of care, whether surgical or non-surgical. Dr. O’Grady and his entire staff work to treat every patient with compassion and concern. Set up a consultation with Dr. O’Grady today to discuss your options.
Patel, Dilip R.,Villalobos, Ana. “Evaluation and Management of Knee Pain in Young Athletes: Overuse Injuries of the Knee.” Translational Pediatrics 6.3 (2017): 190–198. PMC.