Did you know the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons found that nearly half of all injuries sustained by middle and high school students during sports-related activities are overuse injuries? According to the American College of Sports Medicine, about half of overuse injuries in children and adolescents are preventable.
Here’s the scary part. More than one in five young athletes say they’ve been pressured to play with an injury, according to the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation.
I’m a big believer in telling kids, especially those younger than high-school age, to just go outside and play. Be active. Make up games. Exercise your body and brain. If you’re bored, figure out how to “unbore” yourself.
Unfortunately, a lot of young children are thrust into highly competitive sports environments before they’re even 10 years old. They play the same sport and participate in specialized training for that sport year-round. There’s no off-season.
This is the perfect recipe for overuse injuries. Think of the unnatural motion of throwing a pitch in baseball, or the constant strain and force placed upon a gymnast’s muscles and joints. Most kids aren’t properly trained to participate in these sports, and many of the rules that set limits for practicing aren’t science-based.
Lack of preparation plus repetition and overexertion equals injury. Period.
Overuse injuries are caused by repetitive movements without enough rest to allow the body to recover and adapt. This causes a weakening in various parts of the body’s musculoskeletal structure, from stress injuries in the joints to pulls, strains and tears in the soft tissue.
In the case of children, their bones, muscles, cartilage, ligaments and tendons are still growing and changing rapidly. An 8-year-old’s body is much different than a 15-year-old. Pre-puberty and post-puberty athletes are different. People assume all kids are so resilient and can bounce back from anything, but that’s not the case.
For example, did you know that if your child goes through a growth spurt, bones often grow faster than soft tissue? This can affect flexibility and cause tightness, making that child more susceptible to injury. Kids should grow naturally into increased strength, endurance and flexibility.
Aggressively training a child the wrong way can unknowingly cause permanent structural damage. Heavy weightlifting at a young age can cause serious problems with soft tissue and bone density. I’ve actually seen bone density loss in teens because they train so hard and have poor nutritional habits. Many injuries will heal correctly with proper treatment, but some will not. This can lead to chronic pain and degenerative joint disease.
To prevent overuse injuries in children, we need to make sure they’re prepared – physically, nutritionally and psychologically. We as parents need to understand their limits. If a child is limping or looks depressed, we as parents need to step up and look out for the well-being of our kids and not rely on coaches and trainers.
If a child is injured, we need to take it seriously. Get to the root cause of the injury and identify the contributing factors. Minimize prescription medication and look to chiropractic care, massage therapy, acupuncture, physical therapy, Kinesio taping and other rehabilitative techniques.
Most importantly, let the child heal. Young athletes should only return to sports activity once they’re pain-free and regain full range of motion, and that return should be gradual. Don’t let the pressure of getting back in the game cause you to increase the risk of injury, especially in a young child.
Let’s be careful about how early we expose children to intense, competitive sports and watch for the warning signs of overuse injuries. Enjoy the wonderful benefits and life lessons that sports provides, but let kids be kids, especially at a young age.
An article in Dynamic Chiropractic was a valuable resource for this blog post.