The NFL is working with states across the country to craft legislation aiming to prevent concussions in young athletes. "Kids are being pushed like they're professional athletes at a young age, and their bodies are just not ready for that kind of a specialization," Andrews says on the STOP website.

Youth sports injuries are on our minds a lot lately. Literally.


The NFL is working with states across the country to craft legislation aiming to prevent concussions in young athletes.


Earlier this month, the Chicago City Council tightened rules for Chicago students, requiring students who show symptoms of a concussion to get permission from a doctor or certified athletic trainer before they can practice or play again.


The Illinois High School Association, which governs high school sports in Illinois, passed a rule last year giving any official, coach or trainer the ability to remove a player if a concussion is suspected. The player can only return to the game if cleared by a medical professional.


Such focus on preventing concussions is great, but Amy Johnson hopes that concern extends to the entire athlete –– every body part.


Johnson, a physical therapist with Rock Valley Physical Therapy in Peoria, Ill., is working with local sports clubs –– from young soccer players to senior golfers –– hoping to educate them about how to play right and what to do when something feels wrong.


"On day one, we evaluate them. Then (in two other workshops) we teach them proper training techniques. We can't teach them everything, but we can definitely put some tools in their toolbox," said Johnson, who works with fellow physical therapist Luke Acklie.


Alhough they are typically hired by a sports group for private evaluations, Johnson said she and Acklie are looking to offer more public sessions. Starting Jan. 31, they will host a series of free sessions at the local Golf Learning Center geared at helping the older golfer.


“As physical therapists, we can evaluate people without a doctor's referral, but we cannot treat someone without a doctor's referral," said Johnson.


Johnson said she and Acklie weren't able to focus on prevention efforts at their last job, which was a large and extremely busy local office.


"We knew we wanted to focus on injury-prevention strategies, and, especially with where health care is going, that seemed to make sense," said Johnson.


On the national stage, there is the STOP Sports Injuries campaign, a joint effort between the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Athletic Trainers' Association. STOP also is trying to raise awareness regarding all sports-related injuries in youth.


"In the young kids, inherent muscle imbalances make them more vulnerable for injury," Dr. Jim Andrews wrote on the STOP website. He is president of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine and founder of STOP. "So, they're the ones that need the best protection, and they're the ones that are getting the least attention and the least protection."


Part of the problem is single-sport specialization.


"Kids are being pushed like they're professional athletes at a young age, and their bodies are just not ready for that kind of a specialization," Andrews says on the STOP website.


Johnson says they've noticed more injuries in young female athletes, particularly torn anterior cruciate ligaments, or ACLs.


"The Notre Dame girls soccer team –– at one point they had three or four girls with torn ACLs," Johnson said. "The ACL provides stability to the knee. If it's torn, you really can't jump or land without pain. Long term, they are at four times increased risk for arthritis."


Another long-term risk: knee replacement.


"We're finding the coaches do a great job teaching the game, but a lot of them don't have effective strength training programs in place. We're trying to get the word out," Johnson said.


Jennifer Davis can be reached at jdavis@pjstar.com.


On the Web: www.stopsportsinjuries.org/