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Raising Healthy Youth Athletes
Push your child outside of their comfort zone to promote healthy bone growth.
I’m not here to preach one sport specialization or the importance of seasons in this blog. I’m going to change the narrative a bit and focus more on the importance of sporting activity in “developing” healthy youth athletes. If you want to read a little bit more about one sport specialization and the importance of seasons, check this out.
In recent years we’ve seen an increase in sporting injuries, especially in the adolescent population. I think I can make a statement for the three of us here at Feldman and say we’ve seen more and more teenage and young adult athletes come into our clinic with bony stress injuries or stress fractures. Did you know that a majority of bone growth in children occurs in the two years surrounding puberty? Injury prevention starts young, and younger than most people even think.
Puberty in females typically occurs between ages 9-14. In males, the range is a little bit larger and can span from 10-17. Obviously, these can vary and are not set in stone. However, give this bit of information a thought. Your child’s bone health is dependent upon activity when their body is in their prime active growth status!
So, what does this mean? Children should not be sedentary, especially in their pre-pubescent and pubescent years. They should be moving, running, jumping and participating in activities that are variable in nature. Variability is the key to improving bone health. If your child has a single sport niche or no desire to run, jump, etc., it may be time to push them outside of their comfort zone.
Children should not be performing the same exact tasks day in and day out. Young skeletons need unpredictable and intense loading! For bones to get stronger, muscles need to contract, and the body must work against gravity. What does that mean? Non-weight bearing sports are not the answer to improve bone health and weightlifting will not stunt harm your child’s growth (when done properly, of course). ?
Research has shown that bone mineral accrual can be 40% higher in active versus sedentary children. That sure does say something, doesn’t it? So, what types of activity should your child be doing to grow a strong skeleton and prevent bone problems in the future? Believe it or not, things such as swimming, running, and cycling are not the answer. If your child is aspiring to be the next Michael Phelps or Eliud Kipchoge, make sure they’re jumping, cutting, and pivoting too.
Although ball sports may have an increased risk for traumatic injury, it almost halves the risk of bony stress injury throughout an athlete’s career! Young athletes who participate in sports such as weightlifting, gymnastics, soccer, softball, baseball, and basketball show higher bone mineral density than their counterparts who participate in running, swimming or cycling. If you do have a child who is a runner or swimmer, adding activities such as weight training and plyometric activities will be in their best interest!
Of course, there are many other factors that will contribute to bone health in a young athlete. Things such as poor training regiments, lack of proper nutrition and for females, loss or absence of menstrual cycle are all to be considered. Although I will not discuss these in-depth here, please reach out if you have any questions.
Adults are a child’s best advocate when it comes to their health. That is why I am talking to you, parents! In bone health, there is no playing “catch up”. It is extremely important to take advantage of these pivotal moments in a child’s life to set them up for success in the long run. Let’s set these kiddos up for success throughout their lifespan. If you have any questions about this topic, please don’t hesitate to reach out.