At SportsCare, we are committed to providing holistic care for people from all walks of life throughout their lives. Here we’re focussing on how adolescent bodies differ to adults, and why we treat them differently.
Firstly, ‘adolescent’ refers to young people between the ages of 10 and 20 years. Pre-pubescent and teenage bodies and minds go through lots of changes and experience different issues and injuries compared to adults. It’s therefore essential we treat them differently to adult bodies to help manage injury and pain, and prepare them for whatever life throws at them.
How adolescents’ bodies differ to adults:
- Adolescent bones have reduced density because while they are growing in length to increase height, they still need to catch up in width and strength. This means that adolescents are more likely to have injuries to their bones compared to adults.
- Growth plate (areas of new bone growth) injuries need to be checked by a professional as they have the potential to affect growth if not properly treated.
- Adolescents are more likely to be hypermobile (often referred to as ‘double-jointed’) because their joint structures and muscles are still developing. This hypermobility may lead to joint subluxations and dislocations in some adolescents.
- Adolescents have an increased neuromuscular capacity, meaning they can learn movement patterns faster and much easier than adults. For example, learning to squat as a teenager is much easier than learning as an adult.
- Adolescents experience growth spurts, with the Peak Height Velocity (fastest upward growth) for most girls occurring between 11-12 years and for boys between 13-14 years. However, this can vary between adolescents.
- Psycho-social development, cognitive development, development of self and more occur rapidly during adolescent years.
When it comes to Physiotherapy, helping adolescents is important to prepare young bodies for life. Many injuries at this age, such as fractures and dislocations, cannot always be prevented due to the reasons above, but it is imperative these are managed correctly. With education and load management, however, some injuries certainly can be prevented. Overuse injuries are an example that can be managed with education, load management, and encouraging good habits early that kids can continue for life, so they can continue to participate in activities without being held back by pain.
Georgia, one of our Physiotherapists, has a particular interest in working with adolescents because she believes movement, play, and appropriate education at an early age can help prevent injuries, conditions, and pain later in life. The area of physiotherapy for adolescents is also becoming increasingly important as kids become less active and have less exposure to incidental play with technology becoming an increasingly integral part of their lives.
“If a child or teenager is experiencing pain, discomfort, or injury when they are young, the research tells us it is likely to worsen or persist in later life. This is the point where professionals can assist in pain management and achieve a better long-term outcome for the child,” Georgia said.
“I really enjoy working in this area because it focusses on preventative health measures and strategies and empowers young people to manage their health from an early age,” she said.
Common adolescent injuries include:
- Anterior knee pain from overuse, such as:
- Osgood Schlatter’s.
- Patellofemoral pain (PFP).
- Sinding Larsen Johansson syndrome (SLJ).
- Sever’s Disease
- An irritation where the Achilles attaches to the bone, causing pain and discomfort and sometimes swelling.
- Joint subluxation and dislocations.
- Particularly elbows and knees because joint structures are less rigid and strong.
- Bone fractures as bones are still developing.
- ACL injuries, and these are increasing in the adolescent population.
- Slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE), a hip condition in pre-teens and teens that affects the thighbone in the hip joint, causing pain and stiffness.
When should adolescents see a Physio?
Physiotherapists target musculoskeletal pain which refers to bones and joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves, and other soft tissues. Physiotherapists are primary healthcare providers, meaning they can be the first point of contact without a referral.
We recommend adolescents see a qualified Physiotherapist if:
- They are experiencing ongoing pain or discomfort.
- They are pulling out of exercise, play, or participation in activities due to discomfort.
- They have been unable to complete a few full or modified training sessions, games, or physical activity.
- Something doesn’t look right and is different to normal or appears asymmetrical (e.g., swelling, deformed, bruised, etc.).
- Something doesn’t sound right (clicking, crunching, etc.).
An initial screening can help identify areas of concern. Physiotherapists will refer any patients that should be treated by other professionals, including Sports Doctors, Surgeons, specialists, and GPs. We can also work with these professionals to improve the condition or case.
How we can help
We can help diagnose, treat, and manage conditions for adolescents so they can stay active, enjoy sport and exercise, and prepare their body the best they can for their life ahead. If kids can learn and master a variety of movement patterns while they’re young, they are at much lower risk of injury as they get into their older years. The research tells us these kids will perform better in their chosen sport, become more confident, which will encourage further participation in exercise and sport, and they will gain many other psychological, cognitive, and social benefits as well.
All our Physiotherapists can see adolescent patients, but Georgia Clayden is one of our Physios with a special interest in adolescent injuries.
Photo by Brian Matangelo on Unsplash.