Post provided by The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
In recent years, doctors have begun to see a significant increase in overuse injuries in children. In most cases, these injuries are associated with sports-related activity.
Overuse injuries occur gradually over time, when an athletic activity is repeated so often, areas of the body do not have enough time to heal between playing. For example, overhand pitching in baseball can be associated with injuries to the elbow, and swimming is often associated with injuries to the shoulder.
Because young athletes are still growing, they are at a greater risk for injury than adults. The consequences of overdoing a sport can include injuries that impair growth, and may lead to long-term health problems.
When a young athlete repeatedly complains of pain, a period of rest from the sport is necessary. If pain persists, it is important to seek proper medical treatment. To ensure the best possible recovery, athletes, coaches, and parents must follow safe guidelines for returning to the game.
What is an overuse injury?
Overuse injuries occur in a wide range of sports. The most common overuse injuries involve the knee and foot.
Overuse injuries can affect muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, and growth plates. In children, these structures are still growing, and the growth is generally uneven. Bones grow first, which pulls at tight muscles and tendons. This uneven growth pattern makes younger athletes more susceptible to muscle, tendon, and growth plate injuries.
Growth plates are the areas of developing cartilage where bone growth occurs in children. The growth plates are weaker than the nearby ligaments and tendons. Repetitive stress can lead to injury of the growth plate and disrupt the normal growth of the bone.
What causes an overuse injury?
As organized youth athletics has grown in popularity, the pressure to compete has led to children specializing in one sport only. In generations past, children changed sports with the seasons throughout the year, but today it is common for a child to play just one sport year-round. Many children play on more than one team at the same time, as well.
When a child participates in just one sport throughout the year, he or she continually uses the same muscle groups and applies unchanging stress to specific areas of the body. This can lead to muscle imbalances that, when combined with overtraining and inadequate periods of rest, put children at serious risk for overuse injuries.
What are the symptoms of an overuse injury?
Coaches and parents should be aware of the more common signs of overuse injury. These include:
- Pain. This pain cannot be tied to an acute injury, such as from a fall. The pain often increases with activity
- Changes in form or technique
- Decreased interest in practice
How to prevent an overuse injury?
Many overuse injuries in children can be prevented. Key to prevention is to avoid overdoing any single sport, and to give growing bodies adequate rest between practices or games.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has partnered with STOP Sports Injuries to help educate parents, coaches, and athletes about how to prevent overuse injuries. Specific tips to prevent overuse injuries include:
- Limit the number of teams in which your child is playing in one season. Kids who play on more than one team are especially at risk for overuse injuries.
- Do not allow your child to play one sport year round. Taking regular breaks and playing other sports is essential to skill development and injury prevention.