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Keeping Athletes Healthy During the Winter Sports Season

Wrestling, basketball, and hockey seasons are upon us and with them will come a spate of minor injuries and a few of the more serious "season ending" variety.

by Geoffrey Haft, MD, Sanford Clinic Orthopedics & Sports Medicine

Wrestling, basketball, and hockey seasons are upon us and with them will come a spate of minor injuries and a few of the more serious "season ending" variety. While some of these injuries represent the unavoidable consequences of high speed contact sports, many injuries can be prevented. Players, coaches and parents can use some of the following tips to help steer clear of the orthopedic specialist’s office this season.

  1. It might already be too late for this tip, but players should never plan to "play themselves into shape" at the beginning of the season. Many injuries occur during the first few weeks of the new season when the rigors of full contact play overwhelm a poorly conditioned athlete. Many sprains and strains are the result of inadequate conditioning.
  2. This is Mom’s rule: Eat well and get at least eight hours of sleep each night. Improper nutrition and fatigue are well-known contributors to injury. Alertness and response time are critical determinants of performance on the mat, court, or rink. Moreover, sore muscles will repair themselves more quickly with proper nutrition and adequate rest. Some athletes need more sleep, but eight hours is a good goal. To achieve this means getting to bed by 10 p.m., which in turn requires the discipline to finish homework after practice rather than watch TV or socialize. The best nutrition also varies by sport, but a balanced diet should favor complex carbohydrates, protein, fruits, and vegetables over junk food. Wrestlers, in particular, need to pay attention to their nutrition and should never cut weight with the dangerous use of diuretics or “sweat suits.”
  3. Stretch and warm up before practice or competition. Cold muscles are more prone to injuries, so a ten minute period of warm up is mandatory. Many kids will not do this on their own accord, so coaches should be sure to emphasize its importance and press the kids to do it. Dedicated time to warm down and stretch at the end of practice will also pay dividends.
  4. Play by the rules. In basketball, do not hold, trip, or undercut other players. In hockey, do not check or push from behind. Playing by the rules and using proper technique to defend and score helps prevent many of the more catastrophic bone and spine injuries in these sports.
  5. Always wear proper equipment. Well-fitted basketball shoes or skates will support the foot and ankle and prevent blisters. For grapplers, headgear and mouth pieces are required. In basketball, mouth guards to prevent dental injury are strongly encouraged. In hockey, mouth guards, helmets, and full facial shields are mandatory.
  6. Resist the temptation to glorify the idea of “playing through pain.” Any persistently painful back, limb, hand, or joint deserves a thorough evaluation by an orthopedic specialist. Early diagnosis will allow more focused physical therapy and prevent the situation where a well-intentioned player turns a mild injury into a severe one.
  7. Never even consider using anabolic steroids or other controlled substance to enhance performance. These drugs are illegal, represent the worst kind of premeditated cheating and cause irreversible harm to many organs. Steroids also weaken tendons, may permanently stunt growth, cause acne and cause hair loss. Coaches and parents should deal quickly and harshly with any use of these drugs by young athletes.

Dr. Geoffrey Haft is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon for Sanford Clinic Orthopedics & Sports Medicine specializing in: pediatric and adult spine surgery, scoliosis, pediatric trauma, congenital and developmental musculoskeletal conditions.


Sanford Clinic Orthopedics & Sports Medicine
Van Demark Building
1210 W. 18th Street, Suite G01
Sioux Falls, SD (605) 328-BONE (2663)

Sanford Clinic Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Walk-In Clinic
(No Appointments Necessary)
Monday – Friday 8 am – 4:30 pm