Keeping our teenage girls in sport and loving it.
Keeping our teenage girls in sport and loving it is essential for their lifetime health and well-being. It is up to us all as a community to support them wherever possible.
Did you know that the average age for a girl to drop out of organized sport is 13? For reference, the average age for boys is slightly older, at 15.
As a community we must be focused on helping adolescent girls get fitter and stronger and hopefully be able to prevent injuries and keep them enjoying their sport throughout their schooling and into early adulthood!
We know the benefits of sport to the young female body. At the stage where most are dropping out, young teenage bodies are developing strong bones. This is the time they must be doing hard running, jumping, climbing and movement. This bone density is what they will take through their lives.
Whats happening to our girls?
There is so much change occurring during adolescence, in all body systems and within their environment. The changes in hormones at puberty produce significant changes, which can have both direct and indirect effects on injury patterns and pain presentations.
We see huge changes in neuromuscular control (coordination), the brain isn’t listening so well to the joints and muscles (not just their parents 😆).
There are big changes in height, and leg length, and often more ligament laxity in our girls. How often has a parent called “my child looks like a baby giraffe when they run”? That’s all those changes, right there! It is no wonder injury rates are high.
For more on the amazing brain changes in adolescence, check out The Beautiful Brain from National Geographic.
In adolescence, most sports drop the modified children’s version of the sport, resulting in increased training and competition. Representative duties begin (school, club, state and even national). Teens social status can be strongly linked to sporting ability, and most people play the majority of sport at their most competitive levels during their teenage and early adult years.
In the background of our teenage girls are huge social changes and significant influences from peers and the media. Academic pressures and big life decisions being made (and changed), and there is a shift away from family supports in preference to peers and mentors and idols.
Sport can help path the way for these changes. However the mental/ life stressors can have a major effect a teenage girl’s body and the impact of injury can be devastating. Whilst an adult can often (see the bigger picture), if she gets an injury the teenage girl may feel her life (as she knows it) is over. This will also impact how she experiences pain and how she responds to rehabilitation.
Many injuries occur for the first time in adolescence for the reasons mentioned above. Some are unique to adolescence (such as Osgood Schlatters, Severs, joint dislocations and knee pain), sometimes with long term consequences if not managed appropriately.
The management and experience with injury and pain during adolescence impacts our beliefs around injury, pain and recovery later in life, so a positive first experience with injury / pain and recovery is critical.
What we do at Vital Core
We really listen to our teenager patients to find out what it is they feel they are missing out on. Developing a great working relationship with a teenage patient is essential for long term success. The teenager needs to really trust their physio to be intrinsically motivated to do their exercises/ homework in order to get the most out of their physio sessions.
As always we take a detailed history of the problem but also of what a typical week looks like for the teenager – what activities are they doing, how long are sessions, are any of them new? What about school PE and sport? Are there any days of the week that they don’t ‘exercise’? How’s school going this year? How are your friendship groups? Are you sleeping well? How much screen time do you have? All of these factors can impact a teenager and their pain experience and it is essential to look at them all. Asking these questions also helps the teen to realise that the physio is actually interested in them as a person.
The physio will then assess the problem area as well as screen for general movement coordination and control. After this the physio will likely give the teen a diagnosis and more importantly what is required to make it better. They will lay out a suggested plan of treatment.
What conditions do we typically see?
Patellofemoral joint pain (under or around the knee cap) is one of the most common issues of teenage girls. Some girls even give up sport because of it, and yet it can be quite straightforward to treat and manage. It commonly occurs in the 13-15 year old girl age group because that’s when their hips start to broaden. This places significant strain on the muscles of the hips and thighs and often causes pulling of the knee cap.
To help we particularly look at the strength and coordination of the muscles around her hip, knee and ankle to ensure that the loads are shared amongst the big muscles groups without too much load on any one group. If not well managed, some women do still report pain 20 years later, and it can potentially develop into arthritis of the joint, so it is really important to treat it properly, early.
ACL ruptures and shoulder dislocations are actually at their peak incidence and prevalence in teenaged girls, and also have quite serious repercussions with surgery often being utilized to manage it and a long term risk of arthritis in the affected joint. Again, good rehab makes a massive difference.
There are loads of other potential injures, but what we see most commonly at Vital Core is niggly joint pain (commonly knees and feet), mostly related to the massive growth and brain re-organization that she is going through.
Our girls are often a bit clumsy as a result, they can’t balance well on one leg, and they do very odd compensatory patterns when they try to squat or push something heavy. They land and take off in an awkward position for her knee and ankle.
We take our teenage patient through a thorough assessment before we diagnose. Then we develop a plan with both the teenager and her parent/s. It will always include advice on modifying some of the sport, sometimes a conversation about priorities, and always some exercises to do to improve her coordination.
As a part of our young athlete development program, we run small group exercise sessions specifically for teenage girl. Depending on the age and ability of the girl these are either primarily using the Clinical Rehab (Pilates) equipment, or a combination with other strength equipment. Because it is specific to teenage girls it is a comfortable and fun environment for these young athletes to exercise.
Let’s together help keep our teenage girls injury free and participating in organised sport for many more years than the average! You can book your teenage girl in for an assessment by calling 83310552 or booking online.