Tips for identifying, treating and reducing risk of three common fall sports injuries

Breaking the TackleShorter days and cooling temperatures mean school is in full swing. While it’s important to help students succeed in the classroom, it’s also important to arm them with the right tools and information for a fun and safe fall sports season.

Monique Burton, MD, director of Seattle Children’s Sports Medicine Program, shares tips for identifying, treating and reducing risk of concussions, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries and shin splints – three of the most common fall sports injuries in young athletes. Each year, Burton and her team provide care and rehabilitation to hundreds of athletes in the Puget Sound.

ACL injuries keep athletes out of the game for eight to 12 months

The ACL is one of four ligaments that keep the knee from wobbling or giving out when you move. When the knee is forced into an unusual position, the ACL and other ligaments can tear partially or completely.

ACL injuries almost always result in surgery to repair the tear, which is then followed by extensive rehabilitation. Athletes with an ACL injury are typically “out of the game” for an average of eight to 12 months.

ACL injuries are quite common in soccer – one of the most popular fall sports for young women. Several studies suggest that young women have two to eight times as many ACL tears than young men at both the high school and college level.

There are different theories about why this happens. “It may have to do with anatomy, muscle strength, coordination and hormonal differences,” says Burton.

Reducing ACL injury risk

“Soccer players and other athletes should always build a warm-up into their sports routines,” says Burton. “Light stretching and jogging before rigorous activity begins can help warm up muscles and increase flexibility, making the muscles ready for activity.”

Schools, sports programs and clubs should also consider starting an ACL injury prevention program, which are shown to decrease the risk of injury. The goals of these programs are to teach players strategies to avoid injury by increasing flexibility and strength, avoid vulnerable positions and incorporating plyometric exercises into their practices..

Reports of concussion injuries up 60 percent in the last decade

A concussion is a brain injury caused by a bump or blow to the head or body that makes the brain move back and forth quickly inside of the skull. You do not have to be “knocked out” to have a concussion.

Concussions are one of the most common injuries in high school football players. Football players can reduce the risk of getting a concussion through proper technique, especially in the case of tackling and blocking, and by wearing a well-maintained helmet that fits properly.

Reports of concussions are unfortunately on the rise – up 60 percent in the last decade.  This is likely because awareness is increasing and so more people are going to the doctor for treatment. This is excellent because athletes with concussions need medical attention and time to heal before going back to their sport.

“Jumping the gun and returning to playing sports early is not worth the risk. Another injury to the head could be devastating or even life–threatening,” says Burton. “Rest from physical activity is important to keep the brain safe from another injury and to heal as quickly as possible.”

Cognitive rest is also important to help get better. “We call this ‘brain rest’ and a prescription may include limiting TV, texting, computer use, video games and possibly even modifications to school work,” says Burton.

Frequent concussion symptoms

For athletes, common symptoms of concussions include headache, pressure in the head, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, blurred vision, sensitivity to light or noise, a feeling of sluggishness, trouble concentrating, confusion or just not feeling right.

Signs of a concussion that parents and coaches can be on the lookout for in football players and other young athletes are the appearance of being dazed or stunned, confusion, clumsy movement, responding slowly to questions, loss of consciousness and also mood, behavior or personality changes.

Burton says that if a concussion is suspected, the athlete should not return to play until seen and evaluated by a medical provider.  A written letter of medical clearance is required to return back to full sports activity at most schools.

Shin splints very common in runners

Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, are a common injury that can occur in any sport, especially ones that involve a lot of running like cross country or soccer.  Pain typically occurs along the shin bone in the lower part of the leg.

Burton says that shin splints can occur for many reasons, but often are a result of doing too much, too fast, too soon. “As you get back into sports, it is important to gradually increase your activity so that your body has a chance to get back into shape and get used to the amount of exercise you plan to do for your sport,” she says.

Other things that are important to consider are making sure your running shoes are not too worn out and that they fit properly. “Running shoe stores are a great place to get shoes that work best for your foot type and activity. Store Well trained running store staff can be great at helping find a shoe that will work best for you,” says Burton.

Treating shin splints and preventing new injury

Seeing a sports medicine clinician and talking to an athletic trainer sooner rather than later can help you get better from a shin splint as quickly as possible. Your doctor will also make sure your shin splints are not something more serious, like a stress fracture.

You may get a prescription for physical therapy to help improve your symptoms and to increase your strength, flexibility and even evaluate your gait to help prevent further injury.


  •  Seattle Children’s Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Seattle Sports Concussion Program – a partnership between Seattle Children’s, Harborview Medical Center and UW Medicine
  • Heartsaver First Aid CPR AED Class

If you’d like to arrange an interview with Dr. Burton, please contact Seattle Children’s PR team at 206-987-4500 or at [email protected]