The Sports Physical Therapy team at Seattle Children’s Hospital helps school-age children and teens heal after sports injuries. Our physical therapists (PTs) have two main goals: to safely return your child to sports and to prevent future problems. Athletes who are still growing need special care when they get hurt. We are experts in the ways sports can affect your child’s bones, muscles and joints. To create a plan to help your child, we think about their age, sport and problem. We watch them in action – playing sports, throwing a ball, running and jumping or using a stationary bike or free weights. We also work closely with other healthcare providers in Sports Medicine.

The sports PTs from Seattle Children’s provide care at four locations: our main campus in Seattle, our clinic in Federal Way, our new clinic in Mill Creek and the new 2,500-square-foot sports gym at our Bellevue Clinic and Surgery Center. The team also offers special programs around the area to help keep young athletes healthy.

Conditions We Treat

We see children with a broad range of sports injuries including:

  • Sprains happen when ligaments get stretched too far or torn partway. Ligaments are strong bands that connect bones to other bones. Most sprains happen at the ankle. Often you can take care of minor sprains at home, but it’s important to check for broken bones or other problems and make sure a sprain heals well. Read more.

  • Sever’s disease is pain at the back or bottom of your child’s heel. It happens because the growth plate of the heel bone gets irritated. The growth plate is the place where new bone forms. It’s weaker than the rest of the bone, and it can get injured if stress is put on it again and again.

  • Shin splints are pain in the muscle on the front of your child’s lower leg. Shin splints often happen after running on a hard surface or in shoes that do not absorb shock well. Training too hard or for too long, instead of building strength slowly over time, can cause shin splints too. Read more.

  • An ACL injury is damage to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee. This ligament is one of the bands that keep your child’s knee from wobbling or giving out when they move. When the knee is forced out of place, the band can tear part way or all the way. ACL tears happen when children stop or change direction all of a sudden, or when they twist a knee or bend a knee sideways. Read more.

  • The meniscus is a pad of tissue in your child’s knee that absorbs shock. It lies between the shinbone and the thighbone. The pad most often tears when a child twists their knee all of a sudden. Read more.

  • Pain at the front (anterior) of the knee can happen for many reasons. The kneecap can get pulled to the side so it doesn’t line up well with the knee joint. Tight muscles on the front or back of the thigh can put pressure on the knee. Other problems with bones or ligaments in the knee can cause pain too. Read more.

  • Tendinitis is swelling and pain in a band of tissue (tendon) that connects muscle to bone. Your child’s kneecap (patellar) tendon may get inflamed if it’s stressed over and over. Athletes who jump a lot, like basketball players, sometimes get this problem because their tendon is stressed when they push off the ground and again when they land.

  • Your child’s kneecap tendon connects their thigh muscles to their shinbone. When the bone or tendon gets irritated at this spot, it’s called Osgood-Schlatter disease. Your child’s knee or upper shin may swell and hurt when they are active. This problem happens from stress placed on the bone and tendon again and again. Read more.

  • The iliotibial band (ITB) is a long tendon on the outside of the thigh. It connects the muscles around the hip and buttocks to the bone just below the knee. Pain may start at the outside of the knee where the tendon rubs over the bone. Sometimes the pain goes up the side of the thigh too. This problem often happens from stressing the band over and over, such as by running.

  • The hip joint takes a lot of stress in sports that involve running, jumping or stopping and starting quickly. Tight muscles in the hip or leg may cause pain around this joint. The hip may be injured during a fall too. Hip fractures are one cause of hip pain. Read more.

  • Many motions in sports can strain, twist or compress the neck or back in ways that may cause pain. Impacts, like when athletes run into each other or fall down, can injure the neck or back too. Read more about back pain, scoliosis and spondylolisthesis.

  • Throwing can cause a sudden injury, or a problem can form slowly from throwing again and again. Problems from throwing include the shoulder pulling away from the collarbone (separated shoulder), damage to the shoulder muscles (rotator cuff) and pain at the inside of the elbow (Little League elbow). Read more.

Services We Offer

  • Before surgery for a sports injury, your child may see a PT to learn what to expect. The PT explains the plan for helping your child heal and return to sports (rehabilitation or rehab plan). Then the PT teaches your child exercises they will need to do. After surgery your child comes back to work with a PT on these exercises.

  • Crutches can be useful after your child hurts their foot, ankle or leg – if the crutches fit well and your child knows how to use them. PTs check for proper fit. We also teach children how to get around safely on crutches and how much weight to put on their injured leg.

  • Tape, straps, sleeves and braces can support an injured body part or take the pressure off it as it heals. Sports PTs also use these aids to help athletes be more aware of their posture and movement so they can change habits that may cause harm. This can help your child heal now and avoid injuries later.

  • All our PTs have advanced training in how to check your child’s gait, the way they move when they run. Gait can affect your child’s feet, ankles, knees, hips and low back. After watching your child run on a treadmill, a PT can teach your child changes that may help them heal from or prevent injuries.

  • A pressure plate in the floor lets our PTs see where your child puts their weight on their feet when they walk or stand. This tells the PT about the stresses on your child’s feet and legs. Checking foot pressure before and after surgery helps your child’s team create a treatment plan for problems like flatfoot. This service is offered only in Seattle.

  • After some injuries or surgeries, your child may not be able to be active on solid ground right away. But they may be able to be active in the water because water supports their weight. Your child’s rehab plan may include sessions with a PT in the pool to build muscle strength and improve motion in joints. This service is offered only in Seattle.

  • PTs use many treatments to help relieve symptoms and improve healing at the site of an injury. These treatments include methods to decrease pain and swelling and to increase blood flow and muscle movement. TENS stands for transcutaneous (through the skin) electrical nerve stimulation, and it can help with pain. Ultrasound uses sound waves to reduce swelling, warm and relax tissue, break down scars and heal fractures.

  • Biomechanical analysis means looking at the way your child moves. A PT watches your child do the normal actions for their sport, like throwing a baseball or kicking a soccer ball. If the PT sees a movement pattern that may cause a problem, they figure out the reason. For example, your child may need to build more strength in some muscles or get better at some skills. The PT designs your child’s rehab plan based on this analysis.

  • Before your child goes back to sports after an injury, a PT tests them to make sure they are ready. This helps prevent new or repeat injuries. The tests check your child’s strength, balance and movement and how long they can be active (endurance).

  • Checking a child’s bones, muscles and joints before they start a sport can help prevent injuries. Our PTs do screenings to see whether children have any problems that might affect their safety, like being stronger on one side than on the other or having an old injury that has not healed fully. Then we suggest a plan to help each child prepare for their sport. Often our PTs screen teams or groups of athletes and provide plans to their parents, coaches or other PTs.