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Caution Needed As Children Head Into Fall Sports

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

After spending summer break in the air conditioning, sleeping late and exercising little more than their thumbs with video games, many young athletes returning to practice for fall sports are at high risk for injury and heat illness.

The early weeks of August bring a higher risk of injury because athletes aren't prepared, according to Mitch Bellamy, manager at the Vanderbilt Orthopaedic Institute.

Athletes who haven't maintained their conditioning level over the summer are more likely to suffer muscular-skeletal injuries because the muscles fatigue more easily, said Bellamy, who oversees the sports medicine high school outreach program.

Following a summer training program is the best way to prepare for fall sports, but now that practice is in session, the focus should be on taking care of the body, especially in high summer temperatures.

It takes 10-14 days to get acclimated to heat, and more for younger children, Bellamy said. Conditioning should be done in the early morning or late evening, and athletes should wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothing. There should be no outside activity at a heat index of 104 degrees.

Signs of heat illness include:

• Headache
• Dizziness
• Nausea
• Rapid pulse
• Vomiting
• Diarrhea
• Fatigue
• Confusion
• Shallow breathing
• Muscle cramps

"At any of these signs, athletes should stop activity, tell their certified athletic trainer or coach, and go to a cool place and replenish fluids," said Bellamy, who also warned about the dangers of "toughing it out."

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"There is a fine line of what to push through and what not to," he said.

Although most athletes know about proper hydration, Bellamy said many practice without proper nutrition.

"No question, the big problem with athletes is not eating," he said. "The ones who get in trouble with fatigue are the ones who haven't eaten anything. Parents should make sure they eat a balanced meal before practice."

Bellamy recommends this hydration schedule:

• 24 hours before activity - eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids. Avoid caffeine because it speeds the rate of fluid loss.

• Two hours before - drink 16-20 ounces of water or a sports drink.

• 20 minutes before - drink 10 ounces.

• During activity - drink 8-10 ounces every 15-20 minutes.

• After activity - drink 16 ounces for every pound of body weight lost during exercise, and complete the fluid replacement prior to the next practice session.