Studies on youth sports revealed they are often an incredible outlet for children. They teach responsibility, sportsmanship, how to work with a team and get them outside and exercising. In fact, the only drawback to sports seems to be potential injury. The good news is that many injuries, especially overuse injuries, can be prevented.
Overuse Injury: Just What it Sounds Like
An overuse injury is an injury that is caused by persistent use of a certain body part – usually a joint like the knee, elbow or shoulder. These are common in professions that require a lot of repetitive motion. Painters, for example often suffer from overuse injuries. But they are also extremely common side effects of young athletes who are constantly in sports training. Overuse injuries are an increasing issue as kids participate in sports year-round. Whether it's playing year-round baseball, playing several sports throughout the year or being involved in an indoor sport like gymnastics, there isn't much downtime for youth athletes. Throwing, jumping, running, twisting and turning in a repetitive manner puts stress on joints, ligaments and bones causing trauma to these areas over time. Examples of overuse injuries commonly found in children are:
- Osgood-Schlatter Disease
- Growth-plate fractures
- Sever's Disease
- Jumper's knee
- Stress fractures (especially in the feet)
- Shin splints
Associated Health Problems
Overuse injuries need to be properly treated and rested. Not doing so can result in very lengthy recovery times, the need to stop playing sports all together and an increased risk of issues later on, such as arthritis.
Leaving this type of injury untreated can lead to other medical issues. For example, if their elbow hurts because they're throwing too much, they will likely try to compensate for that pain in other ways, altering the mechanics of their throw and potentially causing injury to other areas of their body.
While not all overuse injuries are the same, there are similar telltale symptoms that can let you know if your child is suffering from one, regardless of what part of the body their injury is affecting. Look for complaints of:
- The gradual onset of pain, especially if there wasn't a direct injury to this area
- Stiffness or aching during or after competition
- Longer and longer periods of time for the pain to go away
- Activity-related pain progressing to pain with non-sports-related activities (for example, walking or climbing stairs)
If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, let your doctor know so they can recommend treatment immediately.
How to Help Prevent Overuse Injuries
There’s good news. Overuse injuries can often be prevented. First, make sure your child is using proper mechanics. Jumping, throwing, kicking or landing incorrectly can put stress on bones and joints. You'll lessen your child's risk of injury overall if they are performing the sport correctly.
Ensure your child is resting between games and practices, especially at more competitive levels.
It's also a good idea to limit repetitive movements during practice. For example, try to keep a reasonable pitch count, avoid letting swimmers kick for hours without resting in between and don't have your child practice the same tennis stroke over and over without a break.
Keep in mind that bones and joints are more susceptible to injury during growth spurts, so monitor kids at practice and during games closely during those times.
Remember, if you have any questions or concerns, don't hesitate to call your physician.
Dr. Kara Carter is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Katy Clinic in Richmond, Texas. She’s a breastfeeding advocate and her clinical interests revolve around preventive care for her patients.