Runners of all ages experience many of the same musculoskeletal aches , pains, and injuries, however youth runners have some different maladies that may present, particularly as they experience growth and hormonal changes between the ages of 10 and 16. This a particularly interesting time of life with and without running, and running certainly can support healthy development both physically and psychologically when done within reason. Here are some issues that may arise in your child runner and suggestions on how to cope.
Shin splints: pain in the shin bones usually associated with the “terrible too’s” too fast, too far, too soon. In physical therapy clinics we often see this in the fall when the adolescent has enjoyed a leisurely summer and returns to school with cross country two per day practices and essentially is expected to perform when they have not ran all summer. The best way to prevent this is to continue running throughout the summer. Coaches often have summer training schedules for kids to follow to prepare them for their season, and these should be followed to the best of their ability. It is fun to change them up a bit, perhaps try running in a neighboring town, or make a scavenger hunt for them to run and find certain things near the home. At any rate, prevention is the best course of action and this is done by simply running.
For more information on shin splint management, see my previous post on this subject:
Osgood Schlater’s Disease: a disorder of the knee in which the bony protuberance on the front of the long lower leg bone near the knee sustains increased force through running or jumping and over time forms a hard nodule. This tends to develop between ages 10 and 13. Osgood Schlater’s can be quite painful, particularly with knee flexion and kneeling. Inflammation can also occur. It is recommended that the knee be iced for at least 15 min 2-3 times per day. Activity modification may be necessary to decrease discomfort, including decreased running mileage, or taking a break from running and undergoing pool training. Physical therapy is helpful in identifying imbalances in the leg muscles that can lead to greater strain on the knee and help decrease the discomfort.
Knee, Hip or pelvic pain: Similar to causes in adults, running on the same side of the road consistently or the same trail can result in overuse and increased strain on a hip, knee or pelvis. Maintaining proper hip and core strength is important to combat the forces on the joints in the leg.
See my previous posts on these topics for more management ideas:
Foot pain: Also similar to injury in adults. Running in shoes that are falling apart or have significantly lost their tread will contribute to foot pain. Finding a proper fit in an adolescent can be challenging. The biggest pitfall I advise to avoid is placing an orthotic into a foot correcting shoe. For example, buying a pronation corrective Asics Gel-Kayano and then placing an orthotic inside is overkill, and will most likely lead to foot pain eventually. Additionally, weakness in the hips, knees, and feet all contribute to foot pain.
Stress fractures: Micro fractures often found in the foot or lower leg and at times in the pelvis. These are painful all of the time, and are confirmed with exam by a medical professional (physician or physical therapist). These require complete rest to heal and are to be taken seriously. Pool workouts, Pilates, and yoga are great ways to stay in shape while waiting for the injured bone to heal.
Psychological Wellness: Pre-race anxiety, performance anxiety, and self esteem issues can all plague a runner of every age, but let us not forget how awkward and painful adolescence can be. Add to that a fear of failing or losing, and running can be a stressful factor in a young person’s life instead of a positive one. It is important that young runners are able to learn from their mistakes and move on in a reasonable manner. Mental visualization is a helpful tool to promote success. For example, the night before the race, imagining toeing the line and hearing the gun go off, and finding a proper position is a great way to prepare for the stress of a race start. Visualizing the last kick and finishing strong is helpful to prepare for race anxiety. As the adult in a child’s life you can be receptive and supportive, and remind them that loses are a natural part of life, and that often times great performances are born from the drive incurred after a failure.
It should also be noted that it is not uncommon for both male and female runners to develop body image issues during middle and high school years. Promoting proper nutrition is especially important for young runners. Often times high school students get very busy and forget to pack lunches or healthy snacks and with busy schedules find that they haven’t eaten during the day. Receptiveness and awareness are keys to keeping an eye on this issue. Professional help from a counselor and nutritionist is highly helpful in helping a young person manage anorexia or bulimia.
Injuries are indeed a natural part of any runner’s life, however early identification and treatment can decrease time spent away from our amazing sport. Fostering a young person’s love for running will serve them deeply in life both physically and psychologically, creating lifelong healthy habits.
Happy National Running Day!
Make your day great!