Physical Therapy for Young Athletes After Injury

An estimated 60 million children and young adults in the U.S. play at least one sport, according to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). While the benefits of being active tend to outweigh the risks, physical activity still presents opportunities for sports-related injuries.

In the event of an accident, physical therapy for young athletes can help your child heal and get back to their game. Read on to learn about physical therapy for young athletes after a sports-related injury.

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Why Physical Therapy for Children and Young Adults Is Different

Because children are still developing, their rehabilitation may differ from adult physical therapy in a number of ways. Here’s why.

Children’s biomechanics are unique

Children and young adults are still growing physically, cognitively, and emotionally. Their physical therapist needs to take this into consideration. A child’s brain can’t always keep up with the rapid changes of the rest of their body, which may result in coordination issues and an increase in injury, according to the APTA.

Overuse injuries are common among young athletes

Kids are increasingly focusing on one sport rather than playing multiple sports throughout the year. Because of this, according to the APTA, overuse injuries are becoming more common. These include tendon issues, stress fractures, and injuries of the growth plates.

Treatment stresses teaching

As with adults, the goal of physical therapy for young athletes after injury is to reduce pain and restore mobility and strength. Physical therapy for young people, and all people for that matter, is also likely to focus on teaching strategies to prevent future injuries. This teaching strategy may be particularly stressed in physical therapy for children so that both the child and guardian understand how to help the young athlete recover from injury.

Interventions may differ

Physical therapy interventions can also differ due to children’s specific injuries. For example, it’s vital for physical therapists to know whether an injury has occurred around a growth-focused area.

The APTA uses the example of an ankle that appears to be sprained but is actually a fractured growth plate. In that case, the child should keep all weight off the ankle to let it heal appropriately — a different treatment than that for an adult with a sprained ankle. Overall, children have very specific injury considerations that differ from those of adults.

A parent or coach should be involved

It’s important for parents and coaches to attend physical therapy sessions with a young athlete. This will help them stick to the therapy plan and can help reduce any anxiety they may have about their condition. For some young athletes, the prospect of being kept out of their sport for several weeks or months due to injury is highly emotional, and it helps to have an adult nearby to support them.

To learn more about physical therapy for children and young adults, visit the UPMC Sports Medicine Center for Young Athletes or call 1-855-93-SPORT (77678) to make an appointment.

Not 'Small Adults. American Physical Therapy Association. National Athletic Trainers' Association Position Statement: Prevention of Pediatric Overuse Injuries. Journal of Athletic Training. Resistance Training in Youth: Laying the Foundation for Injury Prevention and Physical Literacy. Sports Health.

About Sports Medicine

An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.