prevent injury

Keeping kids in sport: How to prevent injury in adolescents

Playing sport is an integral part of growing up. Yet as kids move into their teenage years, sporting participation drops. One of the main reasons for this dropout rate is injury. So, what places adolescents at risk of injury and what can we do to prevent injury?

What increases the risk of injury?

There was an estimated 5,770 hospitalisation of adolescents in 2011-2012 as a result of a sporting injury. The most common sporting injuries occurred from football codes (such as soccer, AFL, rugby and touch), followed by hockey and cricket. Research shows that up to 70% of participants who reported an injury during the season have a history of injury.

Adolescent boys tend to experience more injuries, with 55% of injuries occurring in boys compared to girls. This is due to a number of factors; more boys involved in contact sports, increased risk taking and larger body mass.

Adolescents are more prone to injury for several reasons. These include:

  • Lack of developed strength
  • Tight muscles
  • Poor nutrition

sports injury adolescents

Coaches can also unwittingly increase the risk of injury by not including thorough warm-ups.

The good news is that these risks can be managed, particularly in organised sport. By performing proper warm-ups and implementing injury prevention programs (I’ll get to this), coaches can reduce the injury rates of their players. Research also suggests that children should play a range of sports as they grow up, as specialising in one specific sport from a young age increases young peoples’ risk of injury.

The most common injuries

Lower limb injures of the ankle, knee and leg are the most common across all sports played in Australia. This includes ankle sprains, ligament tears in the knee (ACL, MCL ect), contusions (bruises) and overuse injuries such as shin splints. One study found that across basketball, cricket, football, hockey and athletics, knee injuries were the most common, which was followed closely by ankle & foot injuries. It’s important to note that head injuries are also common, and concussion is a big issue in sport today.

Recovery time varies depending on the injury. Most require between 6 weeks to 12 months of rehabilitation. There’s a higher risk of both injuring the opposite limb and re-injuring the same limb during this time.

Injuries often cause teens to take time away from sport and some major injuries, such as ACL ligament ruptures, can lead to children dropping out of sport completely.

How to prevent injury in adolescents

The good news? Tailored injury prevention programs that are included as part of a teams warm up can reduce up to 46% of injuries in youth sport. There focus of trainings programs should change from pre-to-in-season. Pre-season training should focus on strength, functional ability and balance training, whilst progressing to functional strengthening during the season. A structured warm up in pre-season should include proprioception, strength and technical skills, whilst ensuring alignment and control in maintained to reduce ankle and knee injuries.

teen sports

Current Injury Prevention Programs Available

Codes around the world are starting to implement these guides at all levels, and New Zealand has seen promising results in the reduction of injury in clubs that implemented their specific program. A few examples of current programs are below:


Where to get help

An Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) can help to prevent injury. They can provide individualised and tailored strengthening programs to reduce risk of injuries. They can assess your child’s risk of injury by determining if there are any weak muscle or imbalances that could result in injury.

An AEP can also assist in ensuring a successful return to sport as part of any rehabilitation program. They can help at a club level by incorporating pre-screening, and “coaching the coaches” on how to implement injury prevention programs provided by their sporting code.

To find an AEP near you, click here. 

Nicole Emery exercise physiologist

Nicole Emery is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist in South-East Queensland.