An athletic trainer wraps a volleyball player's knee with compression wrap.
Working with an athletic trainer can help young athletes prevent injuries. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Back to school means back to sports for student athletes.

While many athletes have been training or working out throughout the summer, practices for fall sports typically get into full swing a few weeks before school starts.

As athletes return to their sports, it’s important to take precautions to prevent serious sports injuries.

The most common injuries during the fall tend to be to the knee, ankle and shoulder, said Jenn Mroz, MS, ATC, lead athletic trainer at Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital.

“In sports like football, soccer and cross country, we see of lot of lower extremity injuries,” Mroz said. “Sports like tennis and volleyball typically have more upper body injuries such as shoulder strains.”

Following proper technique, stretching before and after practice, icing down after practice and letting the body rest are among the injury prevention strategies Mroz recommends.

When to sit out

Many athletes don’t always recognize the severity of their injuries. Playing through the pain is often viewed as a better option than taking a break from their sports. That concept, however, can make the injury worse.

“It’s frustrating when an athlete says an injury has been hurting for weeks, but thought it would just get better on its own,” Mroz said. “There are things an athletic trainer can do in the initial stages of injury to minimize the pain and swelling while reducing the time they are out of their sport.”

Coaches are also doing a better job of not being overly aggressive to get athletes back in the game, Mroz said.

Essential hydration

The heat and humidity from summer often follow athletes into the fall sports season. As such, staying hydrated is an important part of staying healthy.

The first step to proper hydration is drinking plenty of water before practice and taking frequent water breaks during practice.

Mroz stresses the importance of drinking water as opposed to popular sports drinks.

“Water is always best for hydration,” she said. “Sports drinks contain sugar, which slows down the body’s ability to rehydrate. Sports drinks should be saved for after the practice or game.”

When the temperature is high, she also recommends several breaks in the shade, especially on days when the humidity is over 65 percent.

“Humidity causes the air to become too saturated with water, which limits the ability to have sweat evaporate off your body,” Mroz said. “With sweat still on the skin, the body loses its natural cooling system.”

To avoid overheating, Mroz says athletes can place cool towels on the back of their neck. She also suggests practicing in the morning or evening, when the sun isn’t as hot.

Be prepared

Some sports are more prone to injury than others. Football, hockey and soccer tend to have more injuries. The more intense the activity, the greater the risk of injury.

“You can’t predict what is going to happen,” Mroz said. “But you can be prepared for if it happens.”

Having an athletic trainer on hand is one thing schools can do to be prepared.

“Having an athletic trainer allows the coach to focus on coaching, and the trainer can focus on the medical aspect of the game,” Mroz said. “An athletic trainer is there not only to treat injuries, but also to help prevent them.”