At the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Sports Medicine Program, physicians are noticing an increase in overuse injuries as more young athletes participate in sports with significantly greater intensity. Kids now regularly participate on multiple teams in the same season and don’t get all the rest they need. That increases the chance they will sustain acute and overuse injuries.
IN THE NEWS
ABC 7: Child Athletes at Risk of Overuse Injuries
WHAT ARE OVERUSE INJURIES?
Overuse injuries are distinct from such commonplace trauma injuries as sprains, strains, broken bones and concussions. They are specific to the parts of the body most used during the athletic endeavor. These body areas can include the knees of athletes in sports that require running and jumping, such as basketball and soccer. The elbow is a susceptible area for throwers, such as the baseball condition known as “little league elbow.”
HOW DO THESE INJURIES OCCUR?
The overuse injury is caused by repetitive micro-trauma caused by chronic use of a specific body part coupled with an inadequate time for rest and healing.
But overuse injuries can be prevented if athletes and parents take precautions and familiarize themselves with the symptoms.
HELPFUL TIPS FOR ATHLETES AND PARENTS
Following these tips can help keep your child on the playing field and out of the doctor’s office.
Don’t push through the pain
Young athletes should never be encouraged to “tough it out” and ignore pain. While pain may just be the sign of a sore, tired muscle, it can also be the first clue to an overuse injury. Players should stop and rest and gradually return to the activity if the pain subsides. If it persists, see your local sports medicine physician.
Remember to rest
It’s under-rated, but rest is key to injury prevention and on-field success. The multi-tasking athlete who runs from school to practice to individualized training sessions, while still trying to keep up in school, needs to find time for eight hours of sleep and the occasional day-off from the activity to stay injury free.
Don’t forget to drink
Water is recommended best for hydration during athletic activities under an hour. Consider electrolyte-enhanced sports drinks for longer bouts of activity – more than an hour – and for repeated activity in the same day.
Try many different sports
The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages children to engage in multiple sports and athletic activities. Not only do the kids learn different skills, but also they develop and work complimentary muscle groups while resting others. The Academy also urges forgoing specialization in sports until adolescence or puberty.
Moderation enables lasting athletic success
While there is often pressure, especially for the top players, to commit to multiple teams in a single season, parents are recommended to intervene and help the young athletes make the right choices. Pick the team that will give your athlete the best opportunity to hone skills, learn discipline, make friends and have fun. In this climate of increasing sports intensity for kids, more is not always better. The athletes playing on two or more teams at once are the ones who most often sustain overuse injuries. To avoid them, limit participation to one team at a time.
Ice is your friend
While prevention techniques like stopping play and getting rest are key to avoiding overuse injuries, ice is helpful when applied to the affected area 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
Build up gradually
Injuries occur in many patients early in the new season when kids may try and do too much too soon. Increase practice and playing time gradually.
When it’s time for surgery, it’s comforting to know that there are advanced non-invasive and minimally-invasive techniques that lead to speedy recovery and a return to the sport, so don’t hesitate to consult a sports medicine physician.
Other options are available to young athletes to help them avoid injuries and develop good training habits, including motion analysis, a program that analyzes individual movement patterns and recommends changes in technique to avoid injury. The program is available at the John C. Wilson, Jr. Motion Analysis Laboratory in the Children’s Orthopaedic Center at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.