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UPMC Athletic Trainer: Listen to the Body to Stay in the Game

As parents, it’s imperative that you play an active role in your child’s health and wellness in a positive way, especially when it comes to sports. In today’s youth sports culture, where the focus is on getting better, stronger, and faster to play at higher levels, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s best for your student-athlete. Competition is fierce and finding the right balance for helping young athletes play at peak performance, while keeping their bodies and minds healthy and strong, is a challenge.

No Pain, No Gain

While many may default to the old saying of, “no pain, no gain,” this thinking could be detrimental and lead down a path to a season-ending injury.

The human body has a tremendous capacity to adapt to physical stress. While we tend to think of “stress” negatively, physical stress, which is simply exercise and activity, is beneficial for our bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, making them stronger and more functional by the repetitive breakdown and buildup of tissue.

Overuse injuries tend to occur when the breakdown and buildup are not properly proportioned leading to excess stress on the tissue. Overuse injuries, or repetitive strain injuries, are common athletic injuries associated with tendons, bones, and joints. Common examples of overuse injuries include tennis elbow, swimmer’s shoulder, pitching elbow, runner’s knee, jumper’s knee, Achilles tendinitis, and shin splints.

Most overuse injuries can be prevented with proper training and common sense. Athletes must learn to listen to their bodies. Always remember to encourage warm up and cool down before and after activity. Incorporating strength training, increasing flexibility, and improving core stability will also help minimize overuse injuries. When they are beginning an exercise program or sport, seek the advice of a sports medicine specialist or athletic trainer to prevent chronic or recurrent problems.

An Injury Isn’t the End

There is nothing more disappointing to an athlete than being sidelined by a sports injury. The number one thing on any injured athlete’s mind is “when can I return to sports?” Every athlete and every injury are unique, so the answer to this question isn’t one-size-fits-all. If they return too soon, you risk re-injury or developing a chronic problem that will lead to a longer recovery. Keep these tips in mind as they recover, to ensure a safe return to the game they love.
– See a professional. After an injury, it is important for a sports medicine doctor or athletic trainer to determine the extent of your injury. They understand your athlete’s desire to play their sport again but will always prioritize their health and know how to safely rebuild strength and mobility through physical therapy.
– Have patience. Depending on the type of injury, they may be unable to play for several weeks. Rather than focusing on everything they can’t do, focus on the activities and workouts they can do. Remind them to take their recovery one day at a time.
– Stay positive during recovery. Sports are a big part of your athlete’s life and being sidelined can be hard. Channel their energy into their recovery and encourage a positive mindset. A positive attitude can actually help them recover from an injury quicker.
– Ease into activity. After an injury, an athlete can’t suddenly return to playing at full speed. Once they get the green light to play, have them ease into activity. If it hurts, have them stop. Even if they feel 100 percent better, their body is likely still returning to its full strength, range-of-motion, and stability.
– Listen to the medical team. Your athlete’s doctor, physical therapist, and team athletic trainer monitor their recovery and only move them to higher-level activities when they are ready. They can also teach them how to avoid re-injury when returning to sports.

When it comes to the big game, safety scores the winning point. Getting back to the sport your student-athlete loves quickly, without re-injury, is the goal of UPMC Sports Medicine’s return to sports program. Our sports medicine physicians, physical therapists, and certified athletic trainers have extensive experience in sports medicine, injury prevention, rehabilitation, and recovery, helping athletes perform to the best of their abilities and enjoy the sports they love.

Daniel Picarella, MS, LAT, ATC, CES
Athletic Trainer, UPMC Sports Medicine

Daniel Picarella, MS, LAT, ATC, CES, is an athletic trainer with UPMC Williamsport. To learn more about UPMC Sports Medicine Services, go to