Stretching Helps Prevent Knee and Ankle Pain

By: Sara Miller, Physical Therapy Assistant

Teenagers. They think they know everything.

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Both of my teenage daughters (16 and 13) play sports. Soccer, basketball, track, cross-country; you name it, they play it. Between them and their friends, it seems like we are constantly treating knee and ankle/foot issues.

It’s tough getting kids to stretch before playing sports. Often, they will rush though the process because, quite frankly, it’s not a lot of fun. But what they don’t realize is that having a good stretching program can help alleviate much of the pain and inflammation that they deal with during the course of a season. This is especially important for younger people, whose bodies are still growing and developing.

Two pain-inducing conditions that come to mind are Osgood-Schlatter Disease (OSD) and Sever’s Disease. Both sound scary, but are quite common among growing, active adolescents that are the result of repetitive stress and overuse.

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OSD is the inflammation of the spot right where the tendon from the kneecap (patellar ligament) attaches to the shinbone (tibia). It’s characterized by a painful lump just below the knee. Rest and a regimen of stretching and strengthening exercises can help relieve the pain and allow the adolescent to return to physical activity quickly.

Sever’s Disease is the inflammation of the growth plate in the heel (epiphyseal plate), and can be characterized by a painful lump. This is a common heel pain in growing children, especially among those who are physically active, especially during their growth spurt (8-13 for girls and 10-15 for boys). My younger daughter’s friend is currently wearing a walking boot to ease the pain in her heel due to Sever’s Disease.

Stretching alleviates these issues

These conditions usually completely resolve themselves when the bone has completed growth and activity is lessened. In the meantime, a well-designed stretching program that emphasizes proper form, technique, and body mechanics will help alleviate that pain.

Start with stretching the hamstring, calf muscles and tendons in both legs, with each stretch held for about 30 seconds and repeated two or three times. Don’t rush! Let the muscles fully stretch before and after each workout, practice, or game.

During muscle ‘flare-ups’, use ice packs for 15 to 20 minutes, two to three times daily to treat the pain and inflammation. Use anti-inflammatory pain medication only when stretching, rest, and ice don’t completely relieve the symptoms.

Parents who stress the importance of stretching will be able to keep their kids competing in the sports that they love for as long as possible. Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out a cure for the pain of driving them to all those practices on the weekend!