Physical Activity Guidelines for Kids with Orthopedic Injuries
A recently published article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) summarized some key Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, based on the recommendations of an advisory committee of medical and health authorities. The committee thoroughly reviewed the science that supports health and physical activity, and the purpose of their recommendations is sound – for it is estimated that up to 80% of adults and adolescent-aged children in the United States do not get enough physical activity. Of course, there are a variety of factors at play when answering the question of “why” we aren’t as physically active as we should be.
Regardless of the ways we rationalize the collective sedentary lifestyle that has plagued our nation, we know that daily exercise is crucial to our health – physically as well as mentally, emotionally and socially, and especially for the young among us who are still growing and developing. These guidelines have been set because they can enhance growth and development. The guidelines for preschool children are for three hours of physical activity per day. These hours can vary in intensity, and the guidelines are vague in the types of exercise recommended. However, it is essential to know what amount of activity is being performed at daycare/preschool/school and how much should be done at home. It is crucial to ensure kids of this age are engaging in enough physical activity as their bodies are undergoing such rapid growth both physically and emotionally.
But one crucial question to ask is: How can we help our younger generations “get with the guidelines” if they’ve suffered an orthopedic injury? Younger kids with lower extremity injuries face challenges in complying with the guidelines outlined in these recommendations. Their injuries might be temporary, which may result in just a temporary decrease in their activity level. In this case, after consultation with a doctor, kids should try to remain as active as possible without compromising their healing. In this age group, temporary injuries are typically fractures. Fractures often are treated with immobilization and activity restrictions. If it becomes necessary to avoid weight-bearing, it presents a tougher challenge to stay active. Water therapy or swimming can be an enjoyable activity in this scenario as waterproof casts and braces can be used. It is also important to try to help maintain social interaction with kids’ peers even if they are unable to participate fully. So going to playgrounds with proper supervision and keeping their restrictions is helpful in their emotional and social development.
In older children and adolescents, fractures continue to be a common orthopedic injury, however other injury types begin to emerge. They come in the forms of sprains, strains and overuse injuries. It is vital to maintain the physical activity guidelines at this age, but with two caveats. First, kids should not specialize into one sport too early and second, they should also allow their bodies adequate rest. Overuse injuries are becoming increasingly more common as kids at younger and younger ages begin to specialize into one sport and play it year round without periods of rest.
Kids with disabilities that are chronic can vary in involvement. It is essential to consult with your health care provider regarding specific limitations and recommendations. Physical and occupational therapy often play a crucial role in maintaining activity levels for children who have special needs. But, kids with limited lower extremity function may be able to get significant physical activity and the benefits it brings from upper extremity exercise.
One of the best ways to encourage young people – whether or not they’ve suffered an orthopedic injury – to make physical activity a priority is by modeling it to them. Family walks around the neighborhood after dinner, a trip to a park or an adventurous hike are some activities to help the young people in your life to focus on staying active. And remember, the benefits of activity go beyond the physical gains, but also include psychological, social, and developmental benefits that can last a lifetime.