“We’ve seen a three-fold increase in the number of youths participating in organized sports since 1995,” said Charles Chan, MD, orthopedic surgeon at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. “That’s 44 million children a year. In an effort to achieve success, which unfortunately is measured by winning, we’ve lost sight of overall health and wellbeing.”
That’s why the new Children’s Orthopedic Center and Sports Medicine Program at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health has developed a comprehensive care approach, including a new Young Athletes Academy that just launched in January. This means hitting the road with a full team of physicians, physical therapists, and athletic trainers visiting area high schools to work directly with students and coaches.
“We aren’t just visiting schools and conducting pre-season physicals,” explained Chan. “We’re there to educate athletes and develop treatment plans with school trainers and coaches. The goal is to hopefully prevent sports injuries altogether.”
Scott Larson, executive administrative director of the program, says the entire team is ready for the launch. “The plan is to begin partnering with schools and building relationships. By teaching young athletes how to properly stretch, warm up, run and jump, they’ll be less likely to hurt themselves,” said Larson, a former cross-country runner who believes something like the Young Athletes Academy would have been a tremendous asset when he was in high school. “We’re being proactive and providing learning objectives that will hopefully last throughout a young person’s athletic career.”
A prime focus of the academy is to prevent youths from sustaining season ending ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries, one of the most common knee injuries in sports — and one that has seen an alarming rise among young girls. The team hopes to reduce the rate of ACL tears by identifying risk factors early and implementing a therapy plan with motion analysis to improve joint alignment and biomechanics. In addition, the team will offer screenings for overtraining and burnout, consultations on the female athlete triad and nutrition, and provide comprehensive concussion management. “We’ll even present a forum to address mental health for athletes,” Larson added.
The Young Athletes Academy is not the only new program in Stanford’s industry-leading effort in sports medicine. Next up will be the May launch of the Pediatric Motion and Sports Performance Lab. Located at the new Stanford Medicine Children’s Health Specialty Services – Sunnyvale location, the 6,000-square-foot center will enable researchers to study and better understand the science of movement in young people.
“There’s a lot of research in the area of sports performance and athletics but most of it focuses on mature athletes,” explained Chan, a clinical professor of orthopedics at the Stanford University School of Medicine. “Stanford physicians, scientists and care teams would like to change that standard by focusing on the growing athlete.”
Chan, who has repaired ACL tears in children as young as 7, noted that it’s only in the last couple of decades that surgeons would even operate on a child with open growth plates for an injury such as a torn ACL. “They’d brace it and recommend holding off on agility sports for a few years. But there are techniques now that won’t inhibit growth.” Braces often don’t work, as kids usually wind up taking them off and playing as hard as they would have without the injury, usually leading to additional damage.
“For a long time, we treated children’s injuries as if they were small adults,” Chan said. “Now, we’re much more specialized and armed with innovative surgical techniques for reconstruction. With the new Performance Lab opening soon, we’ll also be able to use the latest motion analysis to determine when it’s safe to clear a growing athlete back to their sport.”
Focusing on the young athlete is just another way the Stanford Medicine Children’s Health Orthopedic Center provides treatment for all conditions, including broken bones, concussions, scoliosis and spinal disorders. The team also has programs for hip preservation, hand and microsurgery, bone and soft tissue tumors, and limb deformity.
The support for young athletes builds on a history of novel orthopedic treatments. For children with different-length legs, surgeon Scott Hoffinger, MD, pioneered the use of a magnet-powered bone-lengthening device that is implanted inside the too-short bone. His colleague Lawrence Rinsky, MD, is among the first on the West Coast to use a magnet-powered implant to replace a bone in a child with bone cancer, providing an artificial bone that grows with the child. The team is now planning to introduce magnetically-lengthened rods for stabilizing the spine in young children with severe scoliosis, a change of procedure that will greatly reduce the number of surgeries required to help kids with this challenging condition.
The Children’s Orthopedic Center and Sports Medicine Program has six locations, including San Francisco, Emeryville and Walnut Creek. The team includes 11 physicians and a large staff of pediatric orthopedic nurses and nurse practitioners, athletic trainers, rehabilitation experts, physical therapists, biomedical engineers and prosthetists.
“We think Stanford’s approach with the Young Athletes Academy will be very beneficial for schools,” said Matt Smith, athletic trainer at Burlingame High School. “Injury reduction, improved conditioning, skill acquisition and overall better health are important to our kids, and we appreciate what this new program offers. We look forward to working with them.”
“Over the last several years, the community has told us that being a part of one of the world’s top health care institutions is important for kids and their families,” Larson said. “With the Young Athletes Academy and the Motion and Sports Performance Lab, we’re ensuring that the latest orthopedic research and care from Stanford will be more available and accessible than ever. Young athletes, both boys and girls, are excited about what this will mean to their performance, injury prevention and safe return to play – now and in the future.”
* For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call (844) 41-ORTHO (67846)
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