Treating student athletes

Injury Report

Basketball coach drawing a strategy to his players.


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Adolescents are not small adults. Their bones and soft tissues are still growing and thus treatment has to take this into account. The goals of a student athlete are often much different than an adult’s goal after an injury. The athlete’s main goal is to get back to their sport as quickly as possible.

According to Dr. Chris Bales, OrthoIndy sports medicine specialist, “For specific injuries such as ankle sprains, AC joint sprains and MCL sprains, general timelines can be given to athletes in regards to how long it typically takes to return to competition. At the same time, every injury is not the same; therefore, determining exactly when an athlete can return is based on their physical exam and injury history.”

In general, athletes need to have a full and painless range of motion and return of strength equivalent to the uninjured extremity before they can return. Returning to a sport is a progression from basic sport-specific exercises, then regular practice drills and finally competition.

Common non-operative injuries include: ankle sprains, AC joint sprains and MCL sprains of the knee. Common non-operative fractures seen in athletes include: finger, clavicle and wrist fractures. Unfortunately, athletes sometimes do suffer injuries that require surgery. Common surgical injuries of the knee include ACL tears and meniscus tears. In the shoulder, labral tears are the most common injury requiring surgical treatment.

“Athletes are driven to get back to their sport as soon as possible. From a physician standpoint, athletes are the perfect patient,” said Dr. Bales. “They are willing to put in the time to rehab their injury and follow advice closely. Seeing an athlete return to their sport, especially after surgery, is very rewarding.”

With an ever-increasing focus on obtaining college scholarships, athletes will often continue to play or practice their sport in the ‘off season’. Overuse injuries are becoming more and more common as young athletes play sports year-round. Dr. Bales added that maintaining good flexibility and proper warm up techniques before sports can help prevent these overuse injuries.

Many athletes also play multiple sports with no rest for their growing bodies. Periods of rest are very important for young athletes.

According to Dr. Bales, in the field of orthopedics, efforts are being made to help athletes avoid injuries. Pitching camps have been instituted to prevent young pitchers from injuring their elbow and shoulder. ACL prevention programs have been created particularly for young soccer players. Improvements in equipment such as football helmets have also helped to prevent injuries such as concussions.

“Physical activity is important for young people and there is no better way to get it than participating in sports. Many important lessons can be learned from sports including leadership, teamwork and sportsmanship,” said Dr. Bales. “But we also need to remember sports are meant to be fun for kids, not stressful. They need encouragement, not pressure, to play. It is important for parents to help their kids find a balance between sports and their other interests or activities.”

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Bales click here.

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