Helping young athletes with knee pain

ThedaCare sports medicine physician supports holistic approach to healing and injury prevention

Knee pain is a common concern among teen athletes. Adolescent anterior knee pain, often referred to as runner’s knee, is prevalent among students in running sports.

“Adolescents are in a stage of rapid growth and development, which can result in muscle imbalances and biomechanical changes,” said Dr. David Hirschi, sports medicine physician with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “These changes, combined with the repetitive stress of activities like running as well as jumping and sudden changes in direction, can lead to increased pressure on the knee joint, resulting in pain and discomfort.”

The discomfort can be debilitating and affect the athlete’s performance and overall well-being.

With proper awareness and preventive measures, teens can minimize their risk.

Hirschi detailed why teens are more susceptible to adolescent anterior knee pain, including:

• Overuse and poor training habits: Teens often push themselves too hard to reach their athletic goals. Overtraining and inadequate rest can lead to excessive strain on the knee joint, contributing to runner’s knee.

• Muscle imbalances: Growing at different rates, the muscles in a teenager’s body may develop unevenly. This can lead to imbalances around the knee joint, causing improper tracking of the patella (kneecap) and subsequent pain.

• Biomechanical factors: Natural variations in a teenager’s biomechanics, such as foot pronation (inward rolling) or poor alignment of the lower limbs, can increase the risk of developing runner’s knee.

• Inadequate footwear: Wearing improper or worn-out footwear while participating in sports can exacerbate knee pain by failing to provide the necessary support and cushioning.

To prevent and manage runner’s knee, Hirschi emphasized the importance of a comprehensive approach that combines proper training, rest, and self-care.

Here are seven steps he suggests.

• Gradual progression: Teens should follow a gradual training progression to avoid overuse injuries. Increase the intensity, duration, and frequency of workouts gradually. This allows the body to adapt to the demands of the sport.

• Cross-training: Encourage teens to diversify their training routines by incorporating activities like swimming, cycling, or strength training. This helps prevent overuse of specific muscle groups.

• Flexibility and strengthening: Proper flexibility and strength training are crucial. Focus on exercises that target the quadriceps, hamstrings and hip muscles to improve the stability of the knee joint.

* Warm-up and cool-down: Before and after workouts, teenagers should perform proper warm-up and cool-down routines. Dynamic stretching and foam rolling can help prepare the muscles for activity and reduce post-exercise soreness.

• Rest and recovery: Rest days are just as important as training days. Adequate rest allows your body to repair and adapt. Prioritize rest and recovery in their training schedule.

• Footwear matters: Ensure the athlete has appropriate footwear for their sport. Consult with a sports specialist or physical therapist to determine the right type of shoe and any necessary support.

• Listen to the body: Teens should pay attention to any early signs of knee pain. Ignoring discomfort can lead to more serious injuries. If knee pain persists, consult a sports medicine specialist for evaluation and guidance.

Preventing knee pain in teens requires a holistic approach, Hirschi said.

“It’s crucial for parents, coaches and young athletes themselves to understand the causes of runner’s knee and take proactive steps to prevent it,” he said. “By following these guidelines and consulting sports medicine professionals, teenagers can not only minimize their risk of knee pain but also maximize their athletic potential and long-term well-being.”