Athlete: “My knee hurts.”
Coach: “Can you show me where?”
Athlete: Motions generally at entire knee.
Coach: “Can you rate your pain out of ten?”
Athlete: “I don’t know how to do that.”
Coach: “How long has it been bothering you?”
Athlete: “Since I tried to put my foot behind my head this morning.”
One of the most common concerns shared by parents, athletes, and coaches alike is pain. Obviously, physical pain is a sign that something is not working as it should. However, not all pain is created equal. Pain is a part of sport, and understanding this sentiment begs the age old question of being injured versus being hurt. If an athlete’s perceived pain is below a three out of ten, odds are they can work around it or perhaps even work out of the pain within a training session. If pain is severe, we can back off and work around the issue until more information is gathered by a healthcare professional. The most important thing to realize if you are an athlete experiencing pain is that consistently working to become healthy will always trump taking time off.
When it comes to pain, a simple question you can ask your athlete is whether their pain is a product of injury (sharp, impossible to work around) or exertion (difficult training session, fatigue, or even a dull, nagging ache). Especially in our increasingly sedentary world, young athletes are having an increasingly difficult time understanding whether the pain they are in is worth acknowledging as a serious issue. For those of you concerned parents, here are a few things you might consider before taking your child in for an MRI.
Is your child in the middle of a growth spurt?
Is your child sitting excessively? Sitting during the school day alone can make the hips extremely tight.
Has your child recently experienced a rapid change in physical activity?
Is your child taking care of their soft tissue? Stretching and foam rolling areas such as the calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, and glutes can make a huge difference in helping with knee and low back pain.
Is your child eating and sleeping enough? Under-recovering can have a huge impact on overall health and perceived pain.
Is your child wearing poor fitting or new/old shoes? Our feet are our connection to the world and if they are put in a poor position, so is everything from the ankle up.
Is pain an opportunity for your child to gain attention or escape a prior commitment? While this may sound harsh, I’m sure many of us can agree our children are far smarter than we give them credit for.
Hopefully this checklist will provide you with some peace of mind as it relates to caring for your child as an athlete. Pain is absolutely a subject that needs to be taken seriously, but that also means it is the athlete’s responsibility to try and understand his or her body. While we can do everything in our power to stop it, pain is still a part of life. If it weren’t for pain, we wouldn’t be as grateful as we are for good health. Will you allow pain to control you, or will you treat it as an obstacle to overcome?