By Dana Burrows, DPT
Does your child play on more than one team in the same sport? Do they play year-round without any down time? Do they complain of pain or discomfort in their knees, shoulders, elbows or feet during or after playing their sport? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then they may be at high risk for an overuse injury.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) defines overuse injuries as, “damage to a bone, muscle, ligament, or tendon caused by repetitive stress without allowing time for the body to heal.” These injuries are more common in kids because the rapid changes in their growing bodies are less resilient to stress. Open growth plates, intense training, high expectations of performance, and lack of flexibility and strength all contribute to overuse injuries. They account for 50% of all youth injuries.
The AAP identifies 4 phases of overuse injuries:
- Pain after physical activity
- Pain during activity but doesn’t affect performance
- Pain that restricts performance
- Long-term persistent pain during activity and rest
So what can you do to help your child avoid overuse injuries?
- Encourage them to play more than one sport to challenge different muscle groups and skills. Specializing in one sport too early in life is one of the biggest contributors to overuse injuries.
- Use their age as a guideline for how much time per week they should spend in a sport – no more hours in a sport than their age. A 7 year old should spend 7 hours or less participating in 1 sport – practice, games, and/or additional training. More than this, and they are 70% more likely to be injured, according to a study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.
- Include cross training and focus on skill development during the off-season. The AAP recommends 3 months off from a specific sport (can be split throughout the year), but they should keep doing something physical in the down time.
- Make sure your young athlete gets enough rest so their body can heal. They should take at least 1 day off every week and get 8-10 hours of sleep every night.
- Focus on having a well-rounded athlete who enjoys being physically active
- Teach your child how to listen to their body and communicate to you and their coaches about any changes.
- Address aches and pains before they affect performance. A little prevention goes a long way in keeping an athlete playing the sport they love.
A pre-season or in-season evaluation by a Tulsa Bone and Joint sports medicine physician or physical therapist can identify risk factors for injuries and make recommendations to keep them healthy and continuing to play the sports they love. Our orthopedic urgent care is available for assessment of any sports injury. Tulsa Bone and Joint physicians, physical therapists, and athletic trainers work as a team with you to keep your athlete healthy.