By Zach Alvira, GSN Sports Editor

Kids are growing bigger, faster and stronger younger. Along wth that, the competition level in youth sports has increased.

That heightens chances of injury, experts say.

Accordingly, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, long among the destinations for pediatric patients across the Valley, created a sports-medicine program specifically for young athletes’ needs. It helps them return to play as quickly as possible through physical therapy.

However, the PCH central-Phoenix location wasn’t always convenient for East Valley athletes seeking physical therapy.

To accommodate them, PCH created a Sports Medicine Physical Therapy Clinic in Gilbert last September. The clinic, on Val Vista Road near Loop 202/Santan Freeway, provides direct access for athletes across the East Valley.

“The East Valley location is great,” said Bruce Fahs, whose daughter, Jenna, undergoes physical therapy treatment at the clinic. “It is 10 minutes from our home and only 5 minutes from Higley High School where Jenna attends. She typically finishes school and drives to PT.”

A similar clinic opened a month later in north Phoenix. They are the first sports physical-therapy clinics specifically for children and young adults in the Valley.

“Most of the patients we see, whether it’s through overuse injuries or anything else, they will need some sort of therapy,” said Dr. Eric Bowman, who is among PCH’s sports-medicine physicians.

“Whenever I talk to patients about physical therapy, I tell them that it’s there to help them get better with whatever it is that may be bothering them.”

A study by the National Safe Kids Campaign and the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that more than 3.5 million children 14 and younger experience some injury from sports or recreational activity. Of those injured, more than 775,000 are treated in emergency rooms.

While catering to athletes ages 4 to 30, the majority of patients are young children to high school-age athletes.

“That’s the bread-and-butter of the patients they see here,” Bowman said. “It’s a lot of those athletes who are out there working hard that need rehab.”

Jenna, 16, ruptured her ACL and tore her medial meniscus in her right knee during a club soccer match last August. At first, it was thought she had just a bad sprain before an MRI revealed the extent of the damage.

Doctors used part of her patellar tendon to repair her ACL and trimmed away some of the meniscus.

“Initially, with the injury, surgery and extended period away from her passion, she was down,” Fahs said. “Jenna is a very determined young woman and within the first few weeks of PT and doing her daily exercises at home she quickly became more engaged in her recovery than I expected.”

Year-round training is now the norm for Arizona competitive athletes, even at the age-group level. That often leads to overuse injuries, which are the most commonly seen at the clinic.

Fractures and tears are common, too, especially among younger children who’ve experienced a fall.

“Gymnastics is a sport where they start at a young age and they peak pretty young,” Bowman said. “That’s one of them where we see more younger kids get hurt. Soccer is another one, but we really see more falls while they are playing.”

Every therapist at the clinic is trained to know exercises that best benefit a patient based on the injury. Isolating muscles around an injury is among the most-common practices, building strength while encouraging proper form to prevent another injury.

State-of-the-art equipment is used during a rehab. For those with a knee or lower-leg injury, an Anti-Gravity Treadmill helps a patient regain full  range of motion while not using their full body weight. That relieves stress.

Patients step into a bag-like device connected to the treadmill. Once strapped in, air from a fan fills the bag, lifting the patient as it calibrates their weight. The treadmill allows therapists to relieve as much as 80 percent of the patient’s body weight, allowing those with weight-bearing restrictions to walk without risking further injury.

“It’s really good for those who may not be ready to run at full speed on their own,” said Caleb Elder, a physical therapist at the clinic. “It’s a nice, confined space so they can’t fall. We have something for just about everybody, which is nice.”

The clinic is equipped with cardio and plyometric machines, resistance bands and a pneumatic resistance machine for strength training. Some sessions end with an ice compression unit to reduce and prevent swelling.

“This location gives us the opportunity to really focus on athletes,” Bowman said. “The whole Valley is growing and this facility gives a lot of families a really convenient option to get the specialized care they need, and not have to drive past downtown to get it.”

 

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at zalvira@timespublications.com and follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira.