Guest post by Dr. Sabrina Chen-See, Vancouver’s Pediatric & Family Wellness Chiropractor on chiropractic for the young athlete.
Everyone knows about chiropractic care for the professional athlete- Sidney Crosby, Usain Bolt, Stephen Curry and many others swore by chiropractic to keep them in top shape. Every professional hockey and football team has a team chiropractor or a team of chiropractors on hand because injury and extreme physical stress is par for the course.
Young athletes, however, are in greater need for chiropractic care than their adult counterparts.
1.) Young athletes get injured more frequently.
As young athletes are developing balance, coordination, technique, strategy and body awareness, it is easier to get injured. The injuries can be minor, like a sprained ankle, or neck, or major, like a concussion. It takes lots of practice and focus to develop a fine sense of body awareness and spatial awareness.
2.) Young bodies are constantly changing.
Body control, calculations for movement and strength can go through massive changes during growth spurts. These changes can cause pain in and of themselves (growing pains), affect biomechanics and performance.
3.) Young athletes today suffer worse injuries.
Since the beginning of sport, there have been injuries. In the past 20 years, however, the number of severe injuries, like concussions, affecting young athletes has sky rocketed. Why? In many cases, kids today just aren’t as hardy as kids in previous generations. While more kids are engaged in organized sport, the actual number of hours spent active has dropped significantly. A lot more time is spent on homework, screen time (T.V., computer, video games, social media) and commuting than ever before, leaving little time for active playing. The prolonged screen time has contributed to weak postural muscles, visible as slouching and “text neck”. Weaker muscles don’t brace as well against impact, and constantly looking down (as in looking at a smartphone) throws off one’s centre of gravity, reduces peripheral vision and prevents foreseeing potential plays or injuries. A poor diet high in processed foods will also make a body weaker and more prone to an injury.
4.) Young athletes experience more repetitive stress.
The trend these days is for early specialization, training year round, and adapting Olympic-level training regimes for young athletes. Many sports are decidedly dominant on one side and use some muscles to a much greater degree than others. This may be the nature of the sport, but it is far from natural for the body. Childhood is the time to build up the foundation of the entire body for life, not just for one sport. Young bodies can become lopsided with the repetitive stress, meaning the athletes will have to compensate for the high shoulder or tight hamstring, otherwise, or until, injury ensues ie. torn Achilles’ tendon, frozen shoulder.
5.) Athletes are under more stress to perform.
As most youth activities have evolved over recent years, there is a much higher emphasis on competition, goals and performance than ever before. At the pee-wee level better players are rewarded with more playtime, and kids already notice if they don’t measure up. Even dance classes aren’t relaxed – they are to prepare for the year-end performance and to showcase the best of the best. The pressure to perform and elevated stress state may mean the athlete will want to continue to play in spite of obvious or not-so-obvious injury. Playing while injured greatly increases the chance of further injury and incapacitation.
Some people reading this may think, “What’s the big deal? Injuries have always been an inherent risk of sport and life without risk is a life not lived.” The problem is that many injuries sustained by young athletes are underestimated even if the athlete complains.
Forceful impacts, repetitive stress, overstraining and jarring actions can cause joints to misalign or “subluxate”. Less than a dislocation or fracture, subluxations can occur without bruising or outward signs of injury. If the injury is small enough, the joint might re-align with motion, rest or stretching. If the injury is severe, prolonged, or repetitive, then the injury is not so easily undone. The body sets off the healing process, starting with inflammation, swelling, pain, and then scar tissue formation. It only takes 7-10 days for scar tissue to become permanent. The pain and swelling can affect biomechanics temporarily, but scar tissue has a much more lasting effect. Scar tissue immobilizes the injured area and muscles become affected as well. If not too strained by the initial injury, muscles spasm to form a splint around the injury. If the injury is in the spine, then vertebrae, discs, spinal nerves and even the spinal cord can get involved. Injuries in these areas can cause shooting pain or weakness to other body parts (ie. sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome), but can also go unnoticed. Subtle results of injury can include stiffness, an occasional twinge, shortness of breath, shortened reach, slower reaction time, sensitive stomach, elevated heart rate, irritability, forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating.
There is a tremendous connectivity between the spine and developing brain. According to the Nobel Prize recipient, Dr. Roger Sperry, “90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by movements of the spine”. Top athletes need to think quickly, accurately and strategically so brain development is not only vital for academic success, but also for athletic superiority.
“As the twig is bent, so grows the tree”. Early subluxations affect the biomechanics of the body and the trajectory of an athlete’s future. Each compensation due to subluxation results in more energy (thought & effort) being used for each action…energy that could have been used for enhanced performance.
Chiropractic care is unique in its goal of “adjusting” joints to bring them into proper alignment so the body can conserve energy and function most effectively and efficiently. Regular chiropractic care is necessary when athletes are known to place high demands on their bodies, to prevent scar tissue buildup and to facilitate high performance. Considering the link between the spine and brain health, chiropractic is the ideal modality to help in brain healing, especially after a concussion. For anyone planning to go far in their sport, in terms of excellence or longevity, ongoing chiropractic care is a must.