Overuse Injuries in Young Athletes: What Every Parent Should Know

Participating in organized team sports or recreational athletics can provide innumerable benefits for school-age children and adolescents alike. In addition to giving them a way to improve their physical skills and become more disciplined, getting in the game can also help young people stay fit and practice good sportsmanship.

Whether your grade-schooler will soon begin their first season of little league baseball or your adolescent is in the umpteenth season of gymnastics, basketball, or traveling soccer, be aware that all young athletes carry some amount of risk for developing an overuse injury related to their sport.

Overuse injuries, which account for half of all youth sports injuries, occur when repetitive movements place excessive strain on specific muscles, bones, tendons, or ligaments. Although overuse injuries are a common problem for adult athletes, too, these so-called “repetitive stress” injuries are more problematic for young people because they can interfere with normal bone growth.

With a little bit of knowledge and the right training approach, you can help your young athlete reduce the risk of sustaining an overuse injury on the field, in the pool, or on the court. Here’s how.

Get a preparticipation physical evaluation (PPE)

Making sure that your young athlete has a PPE, or sports physical before they begin a new sport or competitive season is one of the best ways to uncover any potential areas of concern before your child starts or resumes any type of athletic activity.

By examining your child’s blood pressure, heart rhythm, posture, flexibility, and joint strength, among other things, a PPE can help determine if they’re fit enough to play, or if they have an underlying condition that may either interfere with their ability to participate safely or increase their risk of developing an overuse injury.

Routine PPEs can also help ensure that any previous musculoskeletal injuries, such as a bone fracture or ligament tear, are completely healed.

Make recovery time a priority

Overuse injuries have become increasingly common among young athletes for a number of reasons, almost all of which can be remedied by scheduling enough time for adequate physical recovery between practices, games, and events.

For example, today’s youth athletes have more opportunities than ever to practice their chosen sport on multiple teams or year round. While this may sound appealing to your young sports enthusiast, playing the same sport every day of the week or year-round can drastically increase their risk of developing an overuse injury.

To decrease your child’s chances of developing an overuse injury, make sure they get enough rest after each scheduled activity — whether it’s an easy practice, a high-stakes game, or a competitive event.

To promote optimal physical recovery, try scheduling in at least one day of rest each week. And if your child has a favorite sport that they like to play through every season, see if you can build in a one-month hiatus from that activity per calendar year. During this scheduled break, you can help your young athlete stay fit by encouraging them to engage in sports that require them to use their bodies in different ways.

Promote participation in a variety of activities

If adequate recovery can be considered one half of the injury-prevention equation, the other half would be cross-training or taking part in a variety of different sports activities.

Cross-training serves two important purposes: It helps ensure your child isn’t continuously placing the same type of strain on the same muscles and joints, and it helps your child develop joint stability and balanced muscle strength.  

The best cross-training approach for reducing the risk of overuse injuries limits your young athlete to one sport and one team per season and also encourages them to try different types of activities from one season to the next. Although many kids express a strong desire to focus on just one sport, it’s best not to allow single-sport specialization before late adolescence, as it’s a leading cause of overuse injury as well as burnout.

Keep the lines of communication open

Because it’s not unusual for young athletes to “push through the pain” when they’re in the game, teaching your child how to recognize when something doesn’t feel right — and that it’s alright to stop and seek help — is one of the most important steps you can take to help them avoid serious overuse injuries.   

Teach your children about the importance of listening to their bodies, respecting their physical limits, and keeping an open line of communication with you, their teammates, and their coaches. Most importantly, make sure they know that they should never “play through the pain,” because doing so may result in a more serious injury that could have been avoided with early intervention.

Here at Urgently Ortho, we’re committed to helping young athletes stay safe, healthy, and injury free. To learn more, call our office in Scottsdale, Arizona, or use our easy online tool to schedule an appointment.

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