Young athletes are a unique group. Their bodies are constantly growing and changing. Bones grow and muscles are forced to adapt to this growth. Muscle and fascia is forced to elongate to accommodate the longer bones. As we learned above, muscles go into a protective mode. The fascia tightens to protect the muscle. When a youngster in this phase of growth is involved in sports, they are constantly contracting and relaxing these muscles. If the muscle can’t shorten and lengthen effectively, there is an increased amount of tension put on the area where the muscle attaches to the bone, called the tendon. This causes swelling and pain at that attachment. This is most common with youngsters at areas like the knees and heels. Pain can decrease with ice and ibuprofen, but properly addressing tissue quality, proper movement patterns, and stretching can help prevent and lessen these symptoms. Here are specific recommendations for flexibility with young athletes:
Learn how to use foam rollers and tennis balls as massage tools. Use them before and after sports practice, or any other time. These techniques should be used before standard stretching.
Get massage or bodywork a minimum of every 6 weeks.
Eat well, stay hydrated, and get plenty of sleep.
Use a movement based warm-up before intensive physical activity. The movements should be progressively more dynamic and consist of large ranges of motion like the ones seen in sports. Lunges, Frankenstein walks, marches, shuffles, skips and variations of bear crawls are great warm-up exercises.
After exercise, perform slow, prolonged stretches particularly in areas such as the calves, hamstrings, quads, adductors and glutes. Hold these stretches for about 20 seconds and don’t go past a “7 out of 10” on a pain scale.
Stay moving! Muscles need to be used to function effectively at the proper length and strength. When kids sit around, muscles shorten and become weak. Fascia becomes tight from lack of movement. Problems from inactivity can last a life time!
Let’s teach our kids to become happy, healthy, pain-free adults!