Children can oftentimes make flexibility look easy. However, just because it appears that kids can run, jump and bend easily, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t necessary for them to stretch before (and after) participating in or training for an athletic event.
Stretching allows children to add to the natural flexibility that they already enjoy. Perhaps most importantly, stretching and warming up before any strenuous physical activity is paramount to help prevent common injuries - such as muscle pulls. Children are also likely to perform better if they are more flexible. Stretching after exercise helps the muscles to cool down and recover more quickly.
Here are a few ways to help keep muscles warm, loose and ready to compete:
- Perform a low-intensity walk to warm-up muscles before stretching;
- When stretching, make sure children have proper form and don’t bounce. They should stretch and allow the muscles to reach a gentle pull and hold that position for about 10 seconds;
- Stretch the calves, quadriceps and hamstrings well in both legs. It is also a good idea to stretch muscles around the ankles. The most common injuries in runners and cyclists involve the lower limbs;
- “Swimmer’s Shoulder” is a common injury among swimmers. Keeping shoulder, back, neck and chest muscles stretched will improve flexibility and help to reduce the risk of injury in the water.
Children are often anxious to get started when it is time for athletic events. But remember, spending just a few minutes before and after to stretch will help keep them flexible and active.
Dr. Lael Luedtke is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon who provides emergency services at The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial in Nashville, TN.