NEW CANAAN, Conn. – New Canaan's young athletes are not immune to suffering injuries while playing sports. But the school system's Athletic Director Jay Egan wants parents to know that he and his department take seriously the mission of protecting student-athletes from injuries — whenever possible.
"There's this misconception that there's some kind of magic workout to prepare athletes for their sport and guard them against injury," Egan said. "But that's just not the case. Children need a variety of activities."
In 1981, New Canaan was the first high school in Fairfield County to hire a full-time athletic trainer, he said. Diane Murphy is still with the school system after more than 30 years.
"We are fortunate the community has always been proactive of these types of supportive resources," he said. "We pay a lot of attention to the health and safety of our athletes."
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that at least 7 million sports- and recreation-related injuries occur in the United States each year. More than half of those injured are between 5 and 24 years old.
Connecticut is no exception. A state Department of Public Health survey found that 40 percent of high school students reported suffering injuries and seeking medical treatment while playing sports or exercising in the past year.
Most childhood sports injuries fall into one of four categories. Each type has its own preventative tactics.
The most common are sprains and strains, which affect overextended ligaments and muscles. One of the most at-risk of these is the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, found in the lower leg. Dr. Thomas Trojian of the University of Connecticut Health Center says the greatest risk is in sports with rapid changes of direction, as basketball, football, soccer and lacrosse. To prevent ACL tears, Trojian recommends exercise programs that strengthen the hamstring muscles, core and hips.
Another group is growth plate injuries, which damage still-developing bones of growing children. They particularly affect the long bones of the body: forearms, upper and lower legs, and hands and feet. Proper safety equipment will help prevent injuries in these cases. Strength training and a diet high in calcium to increase bone density are also important.
There are also repetitive motion injuries, such as tendinitis, which come from overuse of muscles, bones and tendons. Golfers, tennis players and especially baseball and softball pitchers are especially prone to this type of injury.
Egan said he is seeing more of these types of overuse injuries.
"We've noticed the earlier onset of overuse injuries because more kids are participating in out-of-season programs where they are doing a lot of the same activity," he said. "That doesn't allow for as much development of other muscles."
Enticing young athletes to play used to be a problem, but now it is just the opposite, Egan said.
"One of our biggest challenges is finding time to give kids the chance to get proper rest."