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Three Common Sports Injuries in Young Athletes

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Three Common Sports Injuries in Young Athletes

Jun 18, 2024

For young athletes, injuries happen—from sprained joints in sports like soccer or track, to dislocated shoulders on the football field. Orthopedic specialist Julia Rawlings, MD, talks about three of the most common injuries she sees in young athletes and why some of these injuries should be seen by a doctor sooner rather than later.

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    Interviewer: Three common injuries that young athletes might get and what to do about them. Dr. Julia Rawlings practices primary care sports medicine and pediatric emergency medicine at University of Utah Health. Wanted to talk about three injuries that a young athlete might get and what to do about those. And the three injuries we're going to cover are shoulder, ankle, and hand. 

    So Dr. Rawlings, shoulder injuries, what type of athlete normally gets those?

    Shoulder Injuries & Contact Sports

    Dr. Rawlings: So we see acute shoulder injuries, again, meaning from trauma or something that's happened that day, typically from contact sports. So football rugby, soccer, skiing, those are all pretty common sports where you can see shoulder injuries.

    Interviewer: All right. And when should a shoulder injury be something that would concern somebody enough that they might want to see a doctor such as yourself?

    When to See a Doctor for an Injured Shoulder

    Dr. Rawlings: So definitely if you dislocate your shoulder, which hopefully the person would be pretty quick at getting help for that. But if the shoulder is popped out of place, we definitely want that to be seen as quickly as possible. If there's any problem with actually moving the arm using the shoulder, then that should be seen. Especially in a younger person, then we would want to get an X-ray. A younger person is more likely to break a bone than to tear a tendon like a rotator cuff, so we would want to see those people sooner rather than later.

    Ankle Injuries: Risks & Treatment

    Interviewer: Number two, the ankle. What types of athletes suffer ankle injuries?

    Dr. Rawlings: So anybody that's running on an uneven surface. So if you've got grass, turf, you're trail running, or if you're playing basketball and you could step on somebody else's shoes, you have the high possibility of rolling your ankle and getting an ankle injury. So I would say the most common thing we see is you get an ankle sprain from rolling your ankle inward, or sometimes, especially in younger patients, we'll actually see broken ankles instead of an ankle sprain.

    Is it an Ankle Sprain or Something More Serious?

    Interviewer: And as far as ankles are concerned, is it pretty obvious if I'm going to have to go see a doctor as opposed to if it's something that I think is going to just get better on its own in a couple of days?

    Dr. Rawlings: You know, I don't think it's always that obvious actually.

    Interviewer: Okay.

    Dr. Rawlings: I have definitely seen people come in that they've just kind of been hobbling around for a week and they end up having a broken bone. So I think sometimes people just assume it's a bad sprain. So I would say, again, if you're having a hard time putting weight through the leg and you can't walk, that's a good time to be evaluated. If you twist it, it gets swollen but you can walk around on it, it's unlikely to be a broken bone, more likely to be a sprain. Although some people, especially kids, are pretty tough and they'll walk around on broken bones. So the smaller bone in the ankle, they'll walk around with a broken bone. So yeah, if you can't put weight through it, you should come in. If it gets really big and swollen, you should come in. And in general, if you're pretty active, even if you have a bad sprain, we like to see those just because they do really well with physical therapy, and you're at risk for re-spraining your ankle if you don't get the appropriate motion, strength, and balance back in your ankle.

    Young Athletes are More Likely to Break an Ankle

    Interviewer: You had mentioned with the shoulder that younger athletes are more likely to break a bone than tear a muscle. Is there a younger athlete consideration for ankle injuries as well?

    Dr. Rawlings: Yes. So especially really young kids that have growth plates that are open still, they're more likely to break a bone just because the bone is weaker than the ligaments. Once you kind of get to the early teen years, you're more likely to sprain an ankle probably until you get to be older, where you get some osteoporosis and stuff, but generally, those are traumas from just ground-level falls and things like that in the older population.

    Hand Injuries

    Interviewer: All right. Three common injuries that young athletes might face and what to do about them. What about the hand? What kind of athlete is facing hand issues?

    Dr. Rawlings: Yeah. So again, I typically see these in people that are doing contact. So I'm thinking specifically of football, they have a lot of contact with their hands. I've seen a fair amount of injuries in the walk-in injury clinic from rock climbing, people that will kind of have a sudden pop in their finger. And again, I guess one thing that's important to mention is that just because we're sports medicine physicians, we're actually musculoskeletal medicine physicians, so we see a lot of patients in the injury clinic that were not playing sports. People that were, you know, hammered their thumb . . .

    Interviewer: Done it.

    Dr. Rawlings: . . . or, you know, were doing housework or just walking. This is not a sports clinic, this is a musculoskeletal injury clinic, so there are all types of ways that we see people injuring their hands and are not necessarily related to sports.

    When to See a Doctor for a Hand Injury

    Interviewer: So on a hand injury, is that something that you probably would want to have seen sooner than later? I'd imagine, especially since there are a lot of joints there, it would be.

    Dr. Rawlings: Yeah, that's something that's pretty easy for us in general to get an idea of what's going on in the injury clinic. We can make sure you don't have a broken bone. A lot of the fractures we can actually reduce, meaning make them straighter, in the injury clinic and then get you set up with the appropriate follow-up, either with the non-operative sports medicine provider or with our hand specialist.

    Interviewer: All right. Perfect. Thank you very much for giving us an insight into some injuries that young athletes might face and also reminding us that what you do there goes beyond athletes. It could go to somebody who fell off a ladder, for example, and hurt their shoulder, might want to come in as long as, of course, you know, they didn't hit their head and get a concussion or something like that.

    Dr. Rawlings: Correct.

    Interviewer: Right? Yeah.

    Dr. Rawlings: If have bones, muscles, and ligaments and they're injured, we're happy to see you.


    updated: June 18, 2024
    originally published: August 12, 2020