Sports-participation promotes physical and emotional wellness in children but too much physical activity can lead to injury. Overuse injury, is becoming a significant concern for orthopedic doctors at a time where the number of duel-sport athletes continues to grow. Because of this, we’ve seen this type of injury become commonplace, with repetitive stress injuries affecting muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones and growth plates. It’s important to remember that young athletes are still growing at a fast rate, putting them at a greater risk of developing an injury that could lead to long-term health issues. Overuse injuries attribute to about 50 percent of all pediatric sports-related injuries, but there are preventative steps parents, coaches and even young athletes themselves can take:
1. Pre-Participation Physical Examinations Pre-participation physical exams are important for all adolescent athletes. These exams are used to screen for potential risk factors including injury history, flexibility, joint stability and anatomic misalignments. Those with noted deficits should be referred to appropriate medical specialists, such as a physical therapists, for corrective rehabilitation in order to prevent injuries.
2. Nutrition For Athletic Performance Nutrition is vital to the body’s ability to perform, recover, and become stronger. Young and growing athletes exert a lot of energy during physical exercise and many do not consume enough calories to meet their energy demand. This is a concern for orthopaedic doctors because poor nutrition can lead to decreases in bone density, overuse injuries and potential stress fractures.
3. Proper Equipment Matters: Clothing and equipment vary from sport to sport and while it can be expensive to replace, the equipment from last season may not fit your child properly, potentially leading to injury. Common overuse injuries involve the knee and foot, making shoe selection and replacement critical.
4. Stretching Can Aid in Prevention: The most common overuse injury across all sports is tendonitis. Depending on the severity, tendonitis can be intermittently or consistently painful. Warming up and cooling down with appropriate stretching is critical in preventing overuse injuries. With that being said, young athletes should be taught how to properly stretch to avoid injury.
5. Rest is Key: It’s common for kids to feel pressured to play through the pain and while psychologically they feel tough, physically their bodies can only handle so much. Playing through the pain increases damage to the body and therefore recovery time. Any persistent pain or injury needs to be seen by an orthopaedic doctor immediately. In addition, parents should be aware of warning signs including pain, swelling, changes in form or technique, and decreased interest in practice.
6. Avoid Overdoing Any Single Sport: Limit the number of teams your child plays on in a single season. Kids who play on more than one sports team could be physically overdoing it and are at risk for injuries. The same applies to year-round sports; taking regular breaks and playing other sports can be essential for skill development and injury prevention. Several studies have shown a correlation between higher rate of overuse injuries and playing one sport year round.
Most athletes will likely experience sports-related injuries at some point, but can be prevented if caution is taken. It’s important to remember most of the time coaches are focused on a whole group of kids, not just yours, so encourage your child to speak up if something isn’t right.