If you are involved in competitive athletics at any age or level then you know that unnecessary non-contact injuries are a significant and persistent issue. How is this possible when more science and technology is swirling around sports equipment and human performance than ever before? There are numerous theories on why injuries are so common among competitive young athletes at all levels. The issue is certainly due to a variety of factors but I'm like you - I want to see change. The only way to drive real changes on such a widespread problem is to attack the head of the snake.
Before we get to the primary culprit that is sabotaging the durability of today's athlete it is important to acknowledge the secondary factors that together fuel the problem:
More serial miles. Athletes increasingly latch on to a single sport at a very early stage and then play that sport year-round. This serial approach leaves no time for recovery, training or skill development because they just play games. More and more games means more of the same types of miles that apply more load to the same structures. Eventually the structures buckle under the repetitive nature of the endless loads.
This is the most common reason for explaining away increasing sports injury rates but I believe that it is important to look further. Suggesting that sports injuries in kids are only caused by playing the same sport too much suggests that there is nothing more that can be done outside of doing less. This is an insult to the physical capacity of the human body and to the capabilities of human performance professionals. The body is designed to withstand impressive volumes and intensities of physical work as long as it is prepared to do so.
Saying that the main reason for sports injuries is kids playing too much of the same sport suggests that there is nothing more that can be done outside of doing less. This is an insult to the physical capacity of the human body and to the capabilities of human performance professionals.
Of course, serial mileage on the young athlete's body is a factor that needs to be addressed and managed better but solving this epidemic will require peeling back more layers.
Nutrition nightmares. I've broken this factor down into 4 sub-factors:
- Making leafy greens tasty is a lost art. Making nutrient intense, anti-inflammatory leafy greens and other vegetables delicious is near impossible when you are following the hollow dietary guidance that all fat is bad for you. Scarfing down your greens is critical to fighting inflammation, obtaining musculoskeletal building blocks like calcium, magnesium or potassium and generally preparing the body for physical demands. Making your greens with healthy fats like olive oil, grass fed butter or shredded pastured cheese along with a sprinkle of sea salt makes scarfing them down much more enjoyable.
- Sugar and toxic oils are hidden in everything. Many athletes in both youth and pro leagues alike bounce from one fast food meal to another. Constant and high doses of added sugars and toxic oils undermine the function and durability of all of the body's systems from the cellular level out.
- Full fat dairy has been vilified. Demonizing dairy and especially full fat dairy typically steers athletes towards drinks or foods high in sugars/carbs and low in bone building nutrients. No big deal if you do that for a month but if you do that for a young athlete's entire childhood, they won't develop robust and durable bones. Full fat dairy is rich in calcium, phosphorus, and Vitamin K2, which is likely a major reason that dairy intake at or above the RDA has been linked to increased rate of bone mineralization. If your concerns with dairy fat are related to general health it's important to note that responsible consumption of grass-fed dairy fat is actually linked to potential prevention of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
- Chronic dehydration. Musculoskeletal structures and tissue require adequate hydration to be able to recover from bouts of physical work/stress. When this becomes a chronic problem connective and support tissues never heal the natural micro-trauma that occurs during activity. Eventually the micro-traumas become macro-traumas. The first and best way to avoid this nasty cycle may be basic but it works: drink more water.
Fractured sleep habits. Constant exposure to blue wavelength light from phones or other devices, late-night video-gaming, and evening competition and travel are inescapable aspects of an athlete's lifestyle no matter the level. These realities make it very difficult to achieve high amounts of quality sleep. Chronic lack of sleep takes away from healing/recovery time, impairs reaction time and limits athletic performance. These are all reasons that long-term lack of sleep is associated with increased sports injuries in adolescent athletes.
Sitting tight. Unless it's game time, you can bet on finding most athletes sitting. Actually you will even find them sitting during the game if they are on the bench. This goes for all levels with the only differences being that youth athletes are sitting at school all day or in their mom's minivan on the way to the game while pro athletes are sitting in film sessions or on chartered flights on the way to the game. The typical sitting posture is far from ideal and slowly reeks havoc on the structures of the spine, shoulders, and hips (for starters).
RELATED: Sitting Wrecks Your Hip Action
Not only is damage being done to these structures during the act of sitting for long periods with poor posture but think about what happens when the athlete pops up and goes to compete. The structures have become shorter, less functional and less flexible. It's no wonder unnecessary non-contact sports injuries happen as often as they do.
Today's athlete has a durability dilemma in a time of vast human performance-based knowledge, evidence, resources and technology. The issue is certainly multi-facited where some factors have more preventative value than others if addressed. I covered the secondary factors in Part 1 of this 2 part post. These secondary factors are very important and must be addressed but stay tuned for Part 2 where I highlight the #1 reason that durability is elusive for today's athlete and what to do about it.
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Tim DiFrancesco, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS is the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Los Angeles Lakers and Founder of TD Athletes Edge, where he provides fitness, recovery and nutrition guidance to aspiring and professional athletes. For training advice, visit www.tdathletesedge.com and follow him on Twitter/Instagram through @tdathletesedge.
Chan, G. (1995, April 1). Effects of dairy products on bone and body composition in pubertal girls. Retrieved June 13, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7699532
Crew, B. (2014, November 20). New study reveals what checking your phone is doing to your neck. Retrieved June 13, 2015, from http://www.sciencealert.com/new-study-reveals-what-checking-your-phone-is-doing-to-your-neck
Harcombe, Z. (2014). Evidence from randomised controlled trials did not support the introduction of dietary fat guidelines in 1977 and 1983: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Retrieved June 13, 2015, from http://openheart.bmj.com/content/2/1/e000196.full
Kresser, C. (2014, December 9). Still Think Low-Fat Dairy is the "Healthy Choice"? Think Again! Retrieved June 13, 2015, from http://chriskresser.com/still-think-low-fat-dairy-is-the-healthy-choice-think-again/
Milewski, M. (2014, March 1). Chronic lack of sleep is associated with increased sports injuries in adolescent athletes. Retrieved June 13, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25028798
Starrett, K. (2012, February 21). Sitting wrecks your hip action | Feat. Kelly Starrett | MobilityWOD. Retrieved June 13, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JslrFB06wPU