Female Athletes through the Lifespan | Ages 4-10

by Samantha Eakes, DPT

As we grow and develop, our bodies undergo many changes. As women develop, hormonal changes can create conditions that put them at increased risk for injury compared to their male counterparts. In upcoming newsletters, we will feature different stages of life for the female athlete, highlighting what is happening in the body during each stage and recommending appropriate exercises while taking a look at injury risks and other factors to keep in mind in order to prevent injury.

While the focus here is on the female athlete, much of this information is equally relevant to the male athlete, too.

 Children from the Ages of 4-10

During this stage of life, boys and girls are still fairly similar in terms of development, since the hormonal changes that really set them apart are only beginning to kick in.  For children during this time, bone is relatively weaker than ligaments and tendons (due largely to the open growth plates) and therefore, injuries are more likely to occur to bone and at the growth plate instead of ligaments and tendons.

Exercise Recommendations

Children and adolescents should participate in 60 minutes of activity everyday!  The activity should vary, should be age-appropriate, and should be enjoyable.

Sports Participation: What Parents and Coaches should Know

Many children begin participating in sports during this stage. Parents often encourage this participation as a way to increase their child’s overall physical activity, especially as an antidote to the sedentary lifestyle brought on by the increasing presence of technology in our lives. However, it is important to note that sports participation, alone, is not always considered enough activity to meet exercise recommendations.

Moreover, some kids starting out may not be prepared to handle the demands of an organized sport—not just the physical demands, but the rules, the expectations, the new environment, etc. Additionally, children are beginning to specialize in a specific sport at an earlier age. Early sports specialization puts a young athlete at increased risk for muscle imbalances, overuse injuries, over-training, and burnout. Studies show that delayed specialization and an involvement in a variety of sports and/or activities correlates to improved athletic success in later years.

Preventative Measures At this age, prevention of injury is mostly geared towards encouraging outdoor activity and play. The level of play should be appropriate, excessive activity and sports specialization should be avoided. Parents should monitor and help balance of academic, athletic, and free time and ensure that the child athlete always gets adequate rest.

Is Pain Normal?
Not necessarily. If your child has some muscle soreness after a recent change or increase in activity this may be normal;  however, persistent and/or recurring pain is not. If your child is complaining of recurring pain, physical therapy can help. Call us at 815-758-5508 to set up a free consult with a physical therapist to find out how PT can help. Musculo-skeletal movement is our specialty. Physical therapy can help to decrease pain and symptoms and help your child return to prior activities, show how to stretch and get stronger in pain-free ways, and teach proper strengthening and body mechanics to decrease overuse of injured area.

Strength Training: People often ask if strength training is appropriate for children. Strength training is appropriate–but a child should demonstrate the emotional maturity to receive and follow directions and should express a desire to participate. Also, exercise programs should vary often and should focus on technique and safety with close supervision. Most importantly, keep it fun! A child’s activity should be varied, should include outdoor activities, and should be enjoyable and thought of as play.

Other Issues for Girls: It’s never too early for parents to be aware and informed about the developmental changes occurring as your child ages. When girls reach puberty and experience their largest growth
spurt, they are at an increased risk for injury. Many female athletes can also develop the “female triad“: disordered eating, menstrual dysfunction, and loss of bone mineral density. Pressure to perform or to be a certain body size often plays a role. Signs of the female triad may include weight loss, loss of a period, fatigue, poor concentration, and stress fractures.

If you have or know of a child experiencing persistent pain that is not getting better, physical therapy may be helpful. Physical therapists are the clinical experts in musculoskeletal movement. If you are unsure about how physical therapy can help, call our office at 815-758-5508 to set up a free consult.

A former NIU Volleyball player, Sam Eakes still plays, trains and remains athletically active. Sports therapy is an area of specialty, with a particular interest in helping female athletes heal and reach their highest potential.

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