Why do we see so many bone and joint injuries in our adolescent athletes? Is strength training safe?
This a question we all have as parents. The bones and joints of our adolescent are completing their development during this time in their lives. Boys finish this process by around the age of 20 and girls a few years earlier (World Health Organization). Growth spurts occur around age 7 and again at puberty where one will see the most dramatic height gains. Growth plates or epiphysial plates start to close and the cartilage becomes bone during this late adolescent phase. If your child is a “late bloomer” those plates are vulnerable to injury longer. A physical therapist is trained to understand the anatomy to avoid the risks.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association defines strength training as “resistance training that is used to increase one’s ability to produce or resist force. Strength training uses the principle of progressive overload to force the body (muscle, bones, tendons, etc.) to adapt in order to be able to produce and/or resist larger forces. Strength training is NOT powerlifting nor is it bodybuilding”. (Strength Training for Youth Athletes, NSCA Education Department)
What are the limitations to strength training in an adolescent? They are still growing and developing on many fronts. How much is too much?
Strengthening programs should be chosen based on a child’s biological age (degree of maturity), not on chronological age. This is particularly important for joints such as the hip and foot which form their shape around 10 years old. If your child participates in a sport where the foot or hip is stressed, as in activities such as martial arts, dance, gymnastics, and running to mention a few and they have chronic pain in any of these areas, it is important to have them evaluated. Pain is perceived differently in children and adolescents since their nervous system is still developing.
So, do I have my adolescent start a strength training program? The answer is yes. Careful, well-guided strength and conditioning training can reduce the risk of injury. A good comprehensive program with an experienced professional will improve strength, agility, and explosiveness without harming the growth plates. Physical therapists can educate your adolescent in the areas of body mechanics, joint sense, and balanced muscle strength during a movement so that they can protect and preserve their bodies for long and healthy life. After all, your child will live with that body their whole life and education will help them make good decisions about what activities to choose in the future.