Prevent Youth Sports Injuries – Warm Up and Stretch Properly

For children summer means fun and more activity, especially outdoor and sports activities.  Stretching and flexibility often come naturally for most children.

When it comes to preventing youth sports injuries, many parents often ask these questions:

  • Does my child need to do specific stretches?
  • When and why should my child stretch?
  • What kinds of stretching exercises are best?

Just like adults, kids need to stretch their bodies. Especially during growth spurts, children’s and teens’ muscles may be tight.

Why Stretching Is Important

  • Prevents injuries
  • Helps kids’ bodies recover after exercise
  • Helps kids’ bodies become and remain flexible as they grow
  • Reduces muscle tension and feels good

It’s very important to make stretching a regular part of their routine. Proper stretching helps decrease the risk of injury such as cramps and strains, while increasing flexibility and range of motion.

Have your child stretch when their muscles are warm by engaging in a few minutes of physical activity first, as stretching cold muscles can lead to injury.  Many experts actually recommend warming up with a light jog. Stretches should be done on both sides of the body. With active stretches that work more muscles, the stretched muscles learn to extend while another group is working.

Here are a few exercises to try:

Kneeling Stretch

Have your child kneel with both feet pressed together and knees apart. Arms should be along each side of their body with both palms up. Bend over slowly as if trying to touch the floor with their forehead. Hold this position for 10 seconds, breathing throughout. Release and repeat.

Shoulder Blades Stretch

Stretch the shoulder blades by having your child stand with arms stretched out, parallel to the ground. Keep the palms facing backward with their thumbs toward the ground. Have them press their arms back as if squeezing a ball behind their back. Breathe normally and hold for 10 seconds. Release the stretch, inhale and repeat.

Hamstring Stretch

Have your child sit on a mat with their back straight and both legs extended in front. Bend the right leg until the bottom of their foot is next to the left leg. Lean forward, reach for the toes and exhale. Hold for 10 seconds, release and repeat.

Side Stretch

Have your child stand with their legs shoulder-width apart, right hand on right hip and their left hand overhead. Have them lean toward the right as if trying to touch their right shoulder with their left hand.  Exhale while leaning over, hold the stretch for 10 seconds, return to the starting position and switch sides.

After sports or physical play, kids should do a cool-down routine that includes some stretching. Now is the time for static stretches concentrating on the muscle groups they used in their exercise (say, calves, hamstrings, and quads after running). Show your child how to stretch into a position where they feel the muscle being activated. Look for the sensation of tightness, not pain, then hold, without bouncing, for 20 to 30 seconds.  Never force stretches and avoid bouncy movements. Enjoy summer fun, sports and being active while stretching properly. Remember to stop if any stretching begins to hurt. For any questions, or for a sports physical, feel free to call our office at 918-631-8130.

Patrick Kelly, D.O., is an Orthopedic Surgeon with Oklahoma State University Medical Group.