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Guest post:
How to reduce injury risk in sporty children 

If you've always believed that sports injury is something that is inevitable or unavoidable or perhaps 'just one of those things' that you can do little about, think again. Angela Jackson is a Chartered Physiotherapist who has spent the last 35 years seeking to understand why some young athletes get injured, yet others don’t.  Her determination to prevent young athletes from developing preventable injuries has fuelled a career that has taken her from Canada, to working with national teams, Premier League Football clubs and schools across many sports. She has become an expert in understanding all aspects of youth athlete development and has helped hundreds of children fulfil their sporting potential. 

After hearing Angela speak last year at an event explaining how various factors including adequate nutrition and protein intake,  careful planning of sports training and incorporating rest days can all help to reduce the risk of sports injury, we asked Angela to share some of her tips with us here. Angela has kindly written this guest post to help our sporty children with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) reduce their risk of injury when returning to sports after a break such as school holidays or after a period of flaring. With the medications available these days, we know many children with JIA who are able to remain very active in their chosen sports, so we hope that the information and tips that Angela provides will prove helpful. 

Over to Angela:

Would you run a marathon without training? I hope the answer is NO! You would hopefully make a plan and over several months give your body time to adapt and get stronger. Why is it then at we throw sporty kids back to sport at the beginning of a new term, without any consideration for planning, training and recovery?  

Do you ever sit down with your child and make a plan about what they are going to do each week, how hard each session should be and how much fuel they will need each day to cope with that? 

Most parents don’t and so each year, we see children across the UK visiting health professionals with sore feet, shins and knees after just a few weeks of the new season or term. 

Traditionally, we have always thought of childhood overuse injuries as occurring because they do too much sport, but that thinking has changed. Athletes of all ages can cope with incredibly high volumes of activity such as marathons and endurance events … if their bodies are given time to gradually adapt. 

The problems start when we do too much too soon. When we do more exercise than the body is used to, the body takes steps to make itself stronger by laying down extra new bone and new muscle to reinforce itself, ready for next time. However, it takes time for the new muscle or bone to become tough enough to withstand many of the activities children want to do. Injuries occur when we exceed the capacity of the body at that time. This may occur by suddenly doing a new activity, training at a higher volume, or intensity, or when our capacity is reduced due to stress, lack of sleep, growth spurts, poor nutrition, or illness.  

One of the most common times to develop an injury in sporty kids is the third week of the new school term after a prolonged holiday. The sudden spike in activity, new sports, trials, and all that goes with the start of a new term create an overload on the growing child that some can’t cope with.  

Planning and being prepared for what is ahead is key to reducing injuries. By planning, you can often see congestion in the calendar or predict the potential for spikes in activity. 

Make a list of when these spikes in activity might occur in your children or when you can see a bottleneck. 

Here are a few ideas of common training errors: 

1. Back to school after the longer holidays 

2. Sports camps, holidays or tours 

4. Competitions and festivals 

5. Preseason training 

6. Fixture backlog due to bad weather  

7. A new sport or technique  

8. New equipment- a heavier bat or racquet 

9. Start of each season 

10. Athletes who play multiple sports - overlap of seasons 

11. Post injury and illness 

A build-up of fatigue over days and weeks might reduce the athlete’s ability to exercise and increase risk of sickness and injury. If your young athlete looks tired, is starting to get sore throats help them learn to listen to their bodies and take a rest day.  

A great way to assess if an athlete is coping or whether they should train is to use a simple wellness score. Each day before training, ask them to score each symptom out of 5 where 1 is poor and 5 is great. This infographic might help you decide when they should train hard, when to train light and when to not train at all. Sometimes, missing one session can prevent an injury which might result in missing months of training. Better to miss one day than the whole season. 

Improving children’s energy intake, ensuring they get adequate sleep and recovery time to unwind mentally and physically are all critical to building happy, healthy athletes.  

For further information about youth athlete development and injury management go to 

An image of a balancing scale, with 'capacity reduced' on one side and 'load increased beyond capacity of the tissues' on the other. This leads to injuries as we exceed the capacity of the body.
A simple scoring system can help decide how hard to train. Score these three things out of 5, where 1 is poor and 5 is great - how tired, how sore, and how grumpy.
Once you have scored yourself in the three areas, decide whether to train or not. A very low score suggest you should go home and not train; a medium score suggests training but easy; and a high score suggests training hard.