In the past several years, orthopaedic surgeons have been seeing more and more overuse injuries in young athletes. With spring sports just around the corner, we thought now would be a good time to revisit this very important – and often downplayed – topic as it relates to youth sports.
What is an overuse injury?
Overuse injuries are those that occur gradually over time. When an athletic activity is repeated over and over again, affected areas of the body simply don’t have enough time to heal between all the repetitions endured between play and practice. 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. A great example is overhand pitching in baseball, which can be associated with injuries to the elbow.
Overuse injuries can occur in virtually any sport – be it baseball, basketball, track, soccer, swimming, and gymnastics…just to name a few. While some of these injuries are unique to a certain sport, like the baseball injury mentioned above, some of the most common overuse injuries involve the knee and foot.
What makes kids so vulnerable to overuse injuries?
It’s important to note that overuse injuries can affect muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, and growth plates. In children, these structures are still growing and, if you’ve ever watched a child grow, you know that their growth patterns are anything but even! During the growth cycle, bones grow first which, in turn, pulls at tight muscles and tendons making kids more susceptible to muscle, tendon, and growth plate injuries.
When a child participates in just one sport throughout the year, he or she is continually using 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 does this mean for coaches and parents?
First and foremost, don’t dismiss any complaint of pain. When a young athlete repeatedly complains of pain, a period of rest from the sport is necessary. If pain persists, it’s 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. This is where the orthopaedic surgeons and physical therapists here at Prairie Orthopaedic come into play – if your athlete is complaining of pain, be it on or off the field, give us a call! We help athletes of all ages recover and be rehabilitated so they can get back to the sports they love!