More and more kids today participate in competitive sports leagues. These leagues can be great for helping kids exercise, learn the value of hard work and socialize with friends.
However, competitive leagues can also result in kids focusing specifically on just one sport year-round. As a result, doctors are seeing a big increase in overuse injuries among young athletes. Let’s look at why this happens — and what parents can do to help prevent these injuries.
Why are young athletes susceptible to injuries?
Injuries related to overuse can affect muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones and growth plates. In kids and teens, these structures are still growing — and often at different rates. For example, bones grow first. This pulls at tight muscles and tendons, leaving younger athletes at a higher risk of injuries to muscles, tendons and growth plates.
When young athletes repeat the same activities over and over, their bodies don’t get enough time to heal. The consequences of this can go beyond short-term injuries. Overuse injuries can actually impair growth and lead to long-term health issues.
Signs of overuse injuries
If your young athlete consistently says he or she feels pain, it’s important to take time out from the sport. If the pain continues after a few days of complete rest, take him or her to see a doctor with expertise in pediatric sports injuries.
Look for these signs of overuse injuries in kids:
- Pain that isn’t tied to a recent injury like a fall; pain may get worse with activity
- Changes in form or technique
- Decreased interest in practice
Types of overuse injuries
The most common types of overuse injuries in younger athletes include:
- Sever’s Disease — a common cause of heel pain
- Osgood-Schlatter Disease — pain at the front of the knee
- Jumper’s knee — pain in the lower part of the kneecap
- Elbow injury — pain on the inside or outside of the elbow
- Stress fracture — happens when muscles don’t get enough rest and transfer the stress to bones
- Stress reaction of growth plate — irregularity or widening of the growth plate; can end up permanently damaging the growth plate, leading to early cessation of growth
Preventing sports injuries among kids
It’s very important that parents, coaches, and athletes understand how to prevent overuse injuries. Specific tips from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons include:
- Limit the number of teams on which your child plays in one season. Kids who play on more than one team at a time are especially at risk for overuse injuries.
- Don’t let your child play one sport year-round. Taking regular breaks and playing other sports is essential to skill development and injury prevention.