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From the National Athletic Trainers' Association

Sports Injuries: Treat The Whole Person, Study Says

Holistic Approach to Teen Sports InjuriesThe benefits of sports for adolescent boys and girls are well known. Less understood are the short- and long-term effects of sports injuries on a teen athlete's psychological and social life.

A new study in the Journal of Athletic Training provides some clues.

Researchers at A.T. Still University in Arizona found that adolescent athletes with self-reported recent injuries scored lower on quality of life scales measuring physical functioning and pain than their uninjured peers; findings to be expected, since a majority of the reported injuries were sprains, strains, and overuse musculoskeletal injuries.

Of greater concern are the study's findings that injured athletes viewed their injuries as negatively affecting their ability to fulfill leadership roles important to them - such as starting quarterback or team captain - and their ability to participate in social activities.

Because athletes, especially in their adolescent years, are affected by their identities as athletes as well as their social interactions and family life, the findings speak to the need for a more holistic (whole person) approach in treating adolescents recovering from sports injuries: in treating an adolescent basketball player for an ankle sprain, for example, the overall well-being of the athlete, including the potential impact of the injury on areas of the adolescent's life outside of athletic activities, should be considered.

Advice for parents

In light of their findings, the study's authors make a number of recommendations for parents, coaches, athletic trainers and others:

  • Keep your injured child involved with their teams (watching practices, keeping score, etc.) while she is recovering from her injury so she still feels connected to her teammates.
  • Ask your child's health care providers about the impact of his injury on him as a whole person, including psychological and social.
  • Be aware of your child's own self-assessment during the rehabilitation period to best understand how her quality of life is compromised. With proper support and awareness, you can watch for signs of improvement or setbacks. 
  • Recognize the impact of injury on your injured athlete's quality of life, not just that he may not be able to participate. 
  • Understand that sport-related injury can not only cause physical limitations, but can also affect the social aspects of your child's lives. She may distance herself  from you, other family members, friends, coaches and other influential people in her life.

Importance of holistic approach to injuries

  • Research has shown the positive effects of physical activity on various psychological factors affecting children and that physical activity in the adolescent predicts their physical activity as adults.
  • Sports injuries may lead your child to drop out from physical activity, exposing her to an increased risk of a host of negative long-term health consequences associated with such inactivity (e.g. obesity, adult-onset diabetes, cardiovascular disease).
  • An estimated 12 million athletes between the ages of 5 and 22 suffer a sports-related injury every year, resulting in a staggering 20 million lost days of school and approximately $33 billion in health care costs. 
  • Sports are the number-one cause of musculoskeletal injury in the 30 million children who participate in sports annually.  Poorly managed musculoskeletal injuries sustained during adolescence may lead to some of the significant and disabling long-term health problems that have become a national health care concern, such as osteoarthritis.
  • Research suggests a strong relationship between physical activity and perceived life satisfaction in high school adolescents. Negative health-related consequences associated with injury may impact other, as yet unknown, areas of your teen's life outside of athletic activities, such as study habits, personal relationships, and risk for substance abuse.

The bottom line for sports parents: we need to do a better job of helping our children recover from sports injuries psychologically and socially, not just physically.


Sources: Valovich McLeod, Tamara, et. al. "Recent Injury and Health-Related Quality of Life in Adolescent Athletes" Journal of Athletic Training (2009); 44(6); 603-610; National Athletic Trainers' Association.

Created December 20, 2009