As your child heads back to school and competes in school sports, overuse and trauma injuries are common.

Whether it’s low-back pain from playing football or an ankle injury sustained while playing volleyball, athletes can reduce injuries by strengthening all of their muscles and adopting a daily training program designed to optimize performance and minimize the chance of injuries.

“Overuse injuries occur when athletes increase the frequency, duration, intensity, or resistance of training too rapidly, putting too much stress on one part of the body,” said Alexander Cho, MD, independently practicing orthopedic and sports medicine physician on the medical staff at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center. “Staying in good shape is important. Consistent exercise, strength training and cross-training can boost energy, keep muscles in shape, and help prevent injury.”

Before beginning any workout, Dr. Cho reminds athletes to warm up their muscles with stretching and light aerobic exercises.  

Afterward, make sure to cool down with walking and more stretching. Exercise and resistance programs that are different from a student’s usual sport and normal routine are highly beneficial.

“Strengthening weak muscles is key to preventing most common injuries in sports, like a swimmer’s shoulder, tennis elbow, runner’s knee, Achilles tendonitis, or shin splints. Variability in training improves strength, power, and agility, while decreasing the repetitive stress on one or two body parts that are constantly worked,” Dr. Cho explains. “For instance, a runner training for an upcoming meet could benefit from swimming once a week to decrease stress on the legs.”

Incorporating vigorous aerobic exercise improves the body’s ability to handle physical exertion in any sport.

Dr. Cho recommends varying the intensity, duration, and frequency of aerobic exercise, challenging on one day, then lighter on another — especially on days of hard workouts in the primary sport.

“Every day, increase the heart rate for at least 10 minutes at a time, and perform jump routines and pivoting exercises,” Dr. Cho recommends. “Take it slowly at first, then gradually increase the time and intensity. And don’t forget about your core, where strength is critical in any sport.

To get the most of training, nutrition and hydration are also vital. Consume a properly balanced meal of protein, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and dairy, Dr. Cho said.

Carbohydrates should comprise about 33 percent of meals, fruits and vegetables 33 percent, dairy 15 percent, protein 15 percent, and fats and sugar no more than 4 percent.

Drink plenty of water throughout the day, every day.

“Hydration is not something that occurs the night before a big game,” Dr. Cho said. “Make a habit of drinking at least 16 ounces of water two hours prior to exercising and remember throughout practice — about every 15 to 20 minutes — to keep your body hydrated.”

Take steps today toward an injury-free year by exercising regularly, making conditioning a priority, and making smart food choices.

Texas law prohibits hospitals from practicing medicine. The physicians on the Methodist Health System medical staff are independent practitioners who are not employees or agents of Methodist Health System or Methodist Mansfield Medical Center.

Angel Biasatti serves as the director of community and public relations for Methodist Mansfield Medical Center.