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Sports Injury Prevention Tips from the Experts

There is no way to guarantee a child will not be injured playing high school sports, but you can reduce the likelihood. Most preventative guidelines involve common sense, yet a couple of long-time sports medicine officials suggest they are sometimes overlooked.

Gary Schmitt is an athletic trainer at Atlanta’s St. Pius X Catholic High School, one of the most successful prep athletic programs in Georgia. He’s been a certified athletic trainer for 20 years and has worked at training camp with the Atlanta Falcons.

Jay Shoop, director of sports medicine at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has been in that business for 44 years. He was chief trainer for the Olympic Village in Atlanta for the 1996 Summer Games and was head trainer for the NFL’s Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Schmitt and Shoop agree with Rule No. 1:

  • Get ready to play; get in shape. “You can look at studies that show kids who come in better prepared physically suffer far fewer injuries,” Schmitt says. “Kids have gotten better because coaches realize it and make sure with preseason workout programs.”Shoop adds, “A good strength training program is effective in building up your shoulders, trapezoids and neck muscles.”
  • Know rules, techniques and guidelines, and abide by them. Be aware of emerging medical knowledge and know that NFL, college and high school officials have put in place new protocols for concussions and blows to the head. In Georgia, for example, a new law requires a doctor’s clearance before K-12 student-athletes suspected of sustaining a concussion can return to practice and play in games. More than 40 other states have similar laws.“People need to make sure they get information from the right people,” Schmitt says. “Go to your state’s high school association website. Ask trainers, even your doctor. We’re so much more educated as far as what damages a person than we were back in the day.”Shoop adds:  “The biggest thing they need to know (in football) is that you never tackle with your head down. You always see what you’re hitting. Keep your face up.”
  • Warm-up before and rest afterward. Stretching ahead of activity loosens muscles and reduces the risk of strain. Proper rest decreases the chance that fatigue will impair reaction time or the ability of an athlete to defend oneself next time out.
  • Don’t ignore ailments. “A kid with an abrasion that gets infected may miss two or three games just because he didn’t take care of a scratch or abrasive wound,” Shoop says.
  • Be tough, but not quiet. This is an extension of the previous tip. There’s a line between playing with bumps and bruises and putting oneself at greater risk by “sucking it up” and trying to impress coaches with your toughness only to compromise your ability to function and make you more susceptible to injury. Speak up when injured.“Anything involving your head and neck should always be reported,” Shoop says. Schmitt adds:  “I always say pain is your guide for most injuries outside of head and neck injuries. If it hurts a little but you’re fully functional and able to defend yourself, keep playing. If it hurts bad enough that you’re not fully functional and unable to defend yourself, come out. We need to look at it.”
  • Use proper equipment. “That includes making sure coaches are educated about proper fit. Make sure helmets are properly certified and equipment is properly refurbished,” Schmitt says. “Keep up with it through the season. Things change. Kids get haircuts, or grow or lose weight. Make sure the air is properly fitted in their helmet and shoulder pad straps are properly tightened.”

Written by Matt Winkeljohn

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Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.