Sports injuries are the most common form of injuries afflicting young people, according to physiotherapist Anu Räisänen. The Finnish health sciences Ph.D. candidate researched the prevalence of sports injuries among young people for her doctoral thesis and found that young people are surprisingly susceptible to injury during sporting activities.
The findings are underpinned by a survey of some 9,000 youths who were physically active as well as others who did not engage in sports.
The results indicated that up to one in three respondents said that they had suffered a sports injury at least once within the preceding year. The injuries came from athletic activities with sports clubs as well as in school. The survey did not ask about the nature of the injuries.
”The number of sports injuries was large and there were too many. Injuries create problems and they can even be lifelong. They may also influence how much children enjoy sports,” Räisänen explained.
It’s all in the knees
The data involved in the research were compiled by Tampere University and UKK, the Sports Medicine Clinic in Tampere. In addition to the survey, Räisänen also studied how nearly 900 floorball (salibandy) and football players used their knees.
Many popular team sports such as floorball, basketball and football involve a great deal of running as well as sudden changes in direction – in other words, players often carry their weight on one leg. According to Räisänen, this increases the risk of injury.
Her research showed that a poorer ability to control knee movement increased young players’ risk of injuries in the lower extremities.
The physiotherapist probed the risk of injury using a simple test. She looked to see how far the knee turned inwards when players were asked to squat on one leg.
”We measured how much the knee turned inwards and in those [cases] where there was a lot of movement, the risk of injury was high,” she noted.
On average, 16 year-old floorball and basketball players with a marked inward movement of the knee in the squat test were linked with a higher risk of injury. However no similar association was observed in younger football players between the ages of 10 and 14.
Proper warm-up important
Before Räisänen’s research, the risk of injury had only been tested hypothetically. If the knees are seen to turn inwards when after jumping, the risk of injury is believed to be greater than for athletes who have better control of their joints.
Räisänen said however, that it is easy to train players to develop better knee control, for example during warm-up exercises.
She added that it is especially important to strengthen the muscles of the hip and thigh and to warm them up by stretching them.
Räisänen will defend her thesis at Tampere University on 17 May.