JAG Physical Therapy
GROWING PAINS! This is one of those catch-all terms uttered by parents when their pre-teen or teen athletes start to complain of pain in their joints. These words lead to one or many conversations involving statements like “just ice it,” “stretch and you will feel better,” or “don’t worry, it will get better as you get older.” Although these statements have some value to them, let’s make sure we, as parents and coaches, are doing all we can to keep our athletes healthy on and off the field during their growth spurt years.
When discussing growth spurts/growing pains in athletes involved in sports which require extensive running and jumping--or quick changes of direction, such as soccer--I believe it is important to bring up Osgood-Schlatter Disease, or OSD. OSD is one of the most common causes of adolescent knee pain. While it is recently appearing more in the female population, is still much more prevalent in the male population: especially between the ages of 10-16. This condition is characterized by inflammation of the area where the tendon from the kneecap attaches to the shinbone. It is typically the diagnosis when the athlete feels pain, or a bump, at the very top of the shinbone. This discomfort is due to the fast rate that the bones grow during a growth spurt, leaving the much slower-growing tendons and muscles to pull on the bones and cause irritation.
As a healthcare professional, I am a strong advocate for getting today’s youth involved in sports and other physical activities. That said, the physically active, adolescent male population experiences a high volume of this condition due to the added stressors placed on the body during running, jumping and cutting--and as a result of overuse of the not-fully-evolved structures surrounding a joint. It is important to learn how to prevent the injury, treat the injury and rest appropriately.
A successful approach, when trying to prevent or treat OSD, should consist of three basic principles: a proper warm-up, a balanced work-to-rest ratio, and a healthy diet.
During a growth spurt, the muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding a joint lose some elasticity, due to rapidly-growing bones pulling in all directions. A proper warm-up of static and dynamic stretches for the lower body--specifically the quadriceps and hamstring muscle groups--are a great way to ready the muscles, tendons and ligaments for potentially damaging forces which will be placed on them. If you or the athlete are unsure of how to implement a proper warm-up, consult with a healthcare professional such as a physical therapist or certified athletic trainer. These professionals are specialists, and will be able to give proper guidance. There are also programs available, such as the L.E.S.S. Program offered at JAG Physical Therapy, which teach the athlete how to properly stretch and strengthen the lower extremity. This aids in injury prevention.
People of all ages need to maintain a healthy, well-rounded diet, but this becomes especially important when dealing with a growing body. A well-balanced diet of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, along with plenty of water, will give the body and its structures the nutrients it needs. The body needs nutrients to function properly during activity and repair itself following activity, as well as resources to recover following injury.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, let the active body rest when needed. Doing ‘too much, too soon’ is the leading cause of musculoskeletal injuries, especially when coupled with little rest time. After a strenuous workout session or a long season, be sure to leave time before the next session or sport to let the body recover to a healthy state. Asking the body to repetitively perform under an exhausted state is a recipe for injuries.
Remember to encourage your athletes to listen to their bodies, and to speak up when they are hurting. Early intervention, in cases such as Osgood-Schlatter Disease, is the key to success!