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It’s that time of year again for parents to sign their children up for spring sports, and we’ve got some tips for how you can help your little one prevent any injuries for the upcoming season.

We recommend that all athletes participate in a pre-participation sport physical examination. These physicals help inform athletes if they have any potential physical problems.

The most common sports injuries for young athletes are knee and elbow injuries. These injuries are common for younger athletes due to the constant, repetitive stress that is used on developing muscle-bone units. In order to achieve performance longevity, there are three major things that all athletes must focus on: proper stretching before events, nutrition and sleep.

Stretching before and after exercises has proven to diminish chances of injuries by improving athletes’ flexibility. The following stretches are recommended by multiple doctors: forward lunges, side lunges, legs cross-over stretch, standing squad stretch, seat straddle lotus, seat side straddle and knees to chest while laying on back stretch.

Each stretch should be held for 10 seconds and repeated three times. These should be done carefully; speed is not important.

It is key to your child’s health that they get a well-balanced meal featuring protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Some examples of good meals to feed your athlete are bananas and low-fat yogurt with granola for breakfast, a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread with fruit on the side for lunch, and grilled chicken breasts with steamed rice and vegetables for dinner.

Doctors recommend eating a light meal or snack that has easy to digest carbohydrate foods like peanut butter crackers, if the athletes are hungry within three hours of a game or practice. It’s also very important that young athletes drink plenty of fluids in order to prevent dehydration.

Sleep is extremely important to an athlete’s performance. It has become so important to athletes that professional teams such as the Vancouver Canucks, are now using fatigue measurement technology to ensure that enough sleep is integrated into athlete training systems. According to multiple studies, children between the ages of 6-13 should get nine to 11 hours of sleep every night. People between the ages of 14-17 years old on the other hand should only get eight to 10 hours of sleep.

Although there is always a risk of injuries occurring when competing in athletic activities, the benefits of sports participation extremely outweighs the small risk for injuries. Studies show that people who participate in sports at a young age tend to improve their social skills, raise their self-esteem, perform better academically and achieve better lifelong health.

Hopefully these injury preventing tips have helped prepare you for the fast approaching spring season, and we wish all sport athletes a fun, healthy, and memorable upcoming season.

Orthopedic Institute of Pennsylvania has eight locations, including in Camp Hill and Carlisle, and submits a monthly column for Thrive. Visit www.oip.com.

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