I’ve treated several children and teenagers through the years for a variety of sports injuries and a significant portion of these happen when the kids experience growth spurts. In this article I’m going to focus specifically on what happens to children/teenagers’ muscles, bones and nerves when they go through a growth spurt and how this can make them vulnerable to certain injuries.
When I see them in clinic, kids who have sustained injuries during growth spurts often report feeling as if they can’t stride out when running or that they struggle to move freely and parents will say things like “He just doesn’t look comfortable when he runs”.
My first question to these parent is usually “How much has he/she grown in the last few months?”. When kids grow their bones tend to grow and elongate faster than the muscles and nerves can change length.
(Here's the video of the livestream I did about this in the Sports Injury Group)
These “longer” bones can cause trouble because when we move our muscles are meant to lengthen to allow us full range. If the bones have suddenly increased in length and the muscles have not, the muscles pull very tight when kids run or jump. This can predispose them to injuries like muscle strains and apophysitis (Osgood Schlatters’, Severs’ etc.).
The relatively “shorter” nerves can also cause trouble. Our nervous systems are formed by our brains that are connected to our spinal cords which in turn are connected to the nerves that run into our toes and fingers. The nerves are meant to have some slack and be able to slide up and down as we move our arms and legs. If a kid/teenager’s bones have suddenly elongated, the slack in the nerves is reduced and they have to stretch instead of slide. Nerves don’t like to be stretched and this can also lead to muscle strains.
The brain has to also suddenly control legs and arms that are of different lengths than what it’s used to – hence why kids or teenagers can look so off balance and clumsy. This temporary lack of balance and control can predispose young athletes to sprains and strains in nearly any part of the body, depending on the sport they do.
How to prevent growth related injuries in kids/teenagers
1. Make sure that they do regular full body flexibility work.
I’m not talking about some quick stretches before a match. I’m talking about a proper session of sustained stretches done 2 to 3 times a week. Each muscle group has to be stretched for 30seconds and the stretch repeated 3 times.
Stretching should not be painful. I find that kids are often put off because they are trying too hard and it’s really uncomfortable. My young patients see much better results when they take stretches to the first point where they feel a mild stretch and keep it there for a long time.
If you notice that they’re going through a growth spurt, get them to do the “high risk” muscles every day. What do I mean with “high risk” muscles? That will depend on the sport they play. If they do running sports it is usually the glutes, hamstrings, calves and quads. Check out the video in the previous section if you would like examples of what I do.
Are you struggling to get them to do it? Doing it while watching TV can be a very nice way to distract them and get it done with as little moaning as possible!
Word of caution: Don't get them to do strong stretches when they're injured as it can make the injury worse. Rather see a physio to get a treatment plan. The advice above is for injury prevention, not treatment.
2. Get them to do balance work.
This will teach the brain how to control its new body. Start with simple balance exercises but make sure you play with it and make it more complex.