Back to School Sports with Shannon Jegla, DPT and Rebekah Steidinger, DPT

With fall high school sports starting in the upcoming weeks, high school athletes and parents need to be ready to prevent injuries so they can stay in the game!

This week, we sat down with Shannon Jegla, DPT and Rebekah Steidinger, DPT, to learn more about common injuries in high school athletes, what it means to get a concussion, and how to prevent injuries before they happen.

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Back to school is coming up, meaning high school sports are coming back! Are there any common injuries you see in athletes?
Unfortunately, we will see an increase in ACL tears in young athletes beginning this fall and continuing throughout the year. The sports with the highest incidence are soccer, basketball, and football; we see them more commonly in our female athletes. Outside of more acute injuries, we are seeing more and more overuse injuries in young athletes who are now at a level within their sport that requires year-round training. These include stress injuries to bones and tendons.

What can athletes do help prevent these injuries, on the field and off the field?
When it comes to overuse injuries, cross-training is essential. Doing the same motion most days or daily can overload the tissue, especially in growing bodies. Using “off days” to rest from the sport is important. Still, it can also be helpful to move in different ways than your sport demands—think swimming or yoga for a running athlete or lacrosse or baseball for a hockey or basketball athlete. Variety is key!

On the field, it is vital to have proper, well-fitted equipment or footwear on the field and to ensure those stay in good shape throughout the season. And listen to your body! If something happens during practice or a game that doesn’t feel right, talk to your athletic trainer or coach and let them know what is happening. Ignoring the problem isn’t going to make it go away.

Concussions are a big concern in sports like football, soccer, and even swimming! What happens when an athlete gets a concussion?
Concussions, or mild traumatic brain injuries, can occur from a direct impact to the head or a rapid movement of the brain within your skull. This leads to physical, mental and emotional symptoms due to chemical changes in the brain and mechanical stresses to your neck. The body and brain are typically very good at healing after a concussion if given proper treatment and rest. Symptoms can happen immediately but sometimes can be delayed for several hours after injury, so you should always take yourself out of any gameplay if you feel like you may have experienced a concussion. Symptom duration will last days to months, depending on the person and situation.

Why should parents/high school athletes be concerned about concussions in sports?
Concussions are essential to prevent, identify and treat correctly as they can affect many aspects of your life. The most common symptoms include difficulty with cognitive tasks and concentration, memory issues, headaches, dizziness, balance deficits, sleep issues, neck pain, mood changes, and sensitivity to light and sound. They can also take longer and be harder to heal from the more concussions you experience.

Is there anything athletes can do to prevent concussions?
One meaningful way to prevent a concussion is always wearing a helmet when needed on the field, on a bicycle, skiing, or in any other activity where you are at risk of sustaining a head injury. It is also important to play smart and avoid making illegal contact with other players. With any sport that involves stunting, make sure always to use spotters in a safe environment. If running or biking outside for conditioning or sport, make sure you are visible to cars and others around you. Game administrators can do their part by ensuring that equipment is in good condition, tripping hazards are minimized, and fields are in good condition. If you sustain a concussion, it is crucial to avoid any activity that may risk a repeat injury to the head and be evaluated by a medical provider.

What advice would you give to athletes before starting their season?
Pre-season preparation and progressive conditioning after a scheduled rest period is the best way to ensure your body is ready for the demands of your sport. If you have any nagging injuries, make sure you connect with your coach and athletic trainer to have a plan in place to manage them. Adequate sleep, proper nutrition, and consistent hydration are part of the foundation of injury prevention, especially as the school year gets rolling and busier.