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Returning to sport

By Gail Carreras-Lead Paediatric Physiotherapist

Sports participation promotes the physical and emotional well-being of children, and also encourages the lifelong habit of exercise; however, because children are still growing, they are at a greater risk for injury than adults.

Bones grow first, they pull on the muscles to stretch them until they are able to accommodate to the new bone length, during periods of growth spurts children can therefore become less flexible. It is also not unusual for children’s balance and co-ordination to be affected during these times.

It is important to encourage children to exercise regularly to ensure normal physical growth and stretch regularly to help keep their muscles flexible, which in turn will help to prevent injuries occurring.

Make sure your child is getting at least 1 hour of exercise each day but aim to have at least 1 day off per week and at least 1 month off per year to allow for rest and recovery. Children should slowly build up the length and intensity of exercise to help prevent injuries from increasing activity too quickly. Participation in a number of different sports and avoiding specialising in just one sport at a young age should also be encouraged to avoid overuse injuries

Regular stretching can have many beneficial effects as well as helping to reduce muscle injuries, it improves athletic performance; increases flexibility, and improves blood flow to muscles.

Some tips on how to stretch properly:
• Stretch to the point when you can feel it - if you have reached a point in your stretch when it hurts, pull back to where you still feel a stretch but can hold the stretch comfortably.
• Hold each stretch for 30 seconds - holding a stretch for any less will not sufficiently lengthen the muscle; holding a stretch too long may overstretch muscles, causing injury and decrease performance. Always stretch the muscles slowly and do not force it.
• Do not bounce - bouncing while stretching may injure the muscle you are stretching.
• Remember to breathe - Do not hold your breath when you stretch; inhale slowly and relax into the stretch as you breathe out.
• Stretch both sides - make sure to try and stretch equally on both sides. Big differences in flexibility may lead to injury.
• Stretch regularly - to maintain flexibility, stretch at least 3 days a week.
• Do not stretch cold muscles- it is better to stretch after completing a warm up.
Stretching the muscles at the back of the thighs (Hamstrings)
• Position yourself sitting against a wall with your legs out in front of you and your back straight. Ensure that your knees are kept straight and your feet point upright (Children can read or watch TV in this position).

• Position yourself lying on your back with one leg bent up at the hip. Place your hands around your thigh for support and straighten your knee.

Stretching the muscles at the front of the thighs
• Position yourself standing with one knee bent; hold onto the ankle of your bent knee and pull it towards your bottom. Ensure that your shoulders remain over your hips.

Stretching the calf muscles

• Position yourself standing with one leg in front of the other and your hands resting on a wall. Lunge forwards while keeping your back leg straight. Ensure that both feet point forwards and your back heel remains on the ground.
Warming Up and Cooling Down

To prevent injury, it is important to warm up your body before any physical activity and cool it down after a workout or exercise, each should last 5-10 minutes.
Warming up:
• increases your heart rate and respiratory rate
• increases muscle temperature
• boosts the amount of blood and oxygen delivered to your muscles
• prepares the body for a workout
A warm-up can even be the activity you are about to do but at a slower pace (e.g. walking or a light jog before your run or a couple of slow warm-up laps before a swim). If you play a sport, focus on the muscles that are used for your particular sport (e.g. if you play tennis, you might warm up your shoulder with light throwing).
Cooling Down
• slows your heart rate and breathing
• reduces the chance of feeling dizzy or lightheaded
• allows you to relax and feel the benefits of your workout
• helps your body recover more effectively
Your cool-down routine should include gentle movement and stretching.
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