In their recent article in the journal Current Opinion in Pediatrics , doctors from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York wrote about lower extremity (leg) stress fractures in young athletes. These fractures occur when a young athlete's bones can't keep up with their increased activity level and stress.
Here are some take-away messages from their article:
- Stres fractures are one of the most common overuse injuries in young athletes.
- As young athletes play more(more practices, games, tournaments, camps) of the same sport (stressing the same muscles and bones in the same way) with less time to rest and recover, stress fractures are more likely to occur.
- Stress fractures of the tibia (lower leg) and foot are more common in sports involving sudden stops (like basketball).
- The most well-established risk factor for stress fracture is a sudden increase in training intensity.
- Other risk factors include uneven leg length, abnormal knee alignment, stiff knee movements, and abnormal foot bones or alignment.
So What's a Young Basketball Player to Do?
Here are some general recommendations (in no particular order of importance)
- Wear well-padded and appropriately sized basketball shoes when you practice or play.
- When/if possible, get off the concrete and play on some well-supported wooden gym floors.
- Maintain a healthy body weight for your height (too-thin girls with low lean body mass and decreased bone mineral density are at increased risk for stress fractures).
- Avoid drinking diet sodas (the phosphoric acid can weaken your bones).
- REST! Give your bones (and body) enough time to recover from the microscopic injury they get when you play hard and long.
- Listen to your body! If your knees, shins or feet start to ache, decrease the amount and/or intensity of your schedule to prevent things from getting worse.
- If the pain does not go away with rest, see your doctor or sports medicine specialist. They may get an MRI to look for signs of early stress fracture(s).
- REST ! Did I say that before? Yes, but it needs to be emphasized that this is the best treatment for stress fractures. It's better to treat this condition with "aggressive rest" early on than to let it progress to something that's going to keep you off the court for months to come.