Overuse Injuries in the Child Athlete – What To Do and When To Worry!
Children are beginning to specialize in single sports at a younger age. With increased specialization also comes increased incidence of overuse activities. Many of us here at Coastal Orthopedics are parents and we understand the pressure for kids to succeed. Athletic competition is fierce, and the pressure to make A-list teams, travel teams, or perhaps obtain college scholarships is high.
Our first instinct suggests that in order to get better at a sport, you need more practice. But studies have shown us that more is not always better. A 2016 study from the American Journal for Sports Medicine found that high school athletes who trained in one sport for longer than 8 months per year were nearly 3 times more likely to develop overuse hip or knee injuries.
A similar study reported that single-sport athletes overall reported twice as many injuries compared to multisport athletes. Research has shown that elite athletes, including those who receive college scholarships and soccer players on World Cup teams, have routinely played more than 1 sport and spent more time in unstructured play compared to their counterparts that have not achieved that level of play. It’s a challenge to walk the line between maintaining a competitive edge in sports and avoiding mental and physical exhaustion.
Here are some tips to avoid overuse injuries in your children:
- Restrict the total number of hours that your child is training – A good rule of thumb is that the number of hours per week your child participates in sports should be less than their age.
- Cross train by participating in multiple sports and different exercises – Think of it like rotating the tires on your car to change the wear pattern. Different activities create different strain and wear for the body. Multisport training not only decreases their risk of injury but also increases their overall, coordination, adaptability, and general ability.
- Keep things in perspective – Youth sports have morphed into highly competitive leagues. But try to remember the alternative goals and benefits of sports, including development of self-esteem, team work, peer socialization, work ethic, general attention to physical wellness, and, of course, fun!
- Watch your child carefully for signs that something is not right – If you notice your child can’t throw as far, hit as hard, or run as fast as they usually can, it might suggest their body is overworked and they are nursing an overuse injury.
- Take breaks from sports and don’t overschedule – Children should have at least 1-2 days off per week and a couple longer breaks throughout the years.
- Remove your child from play if their pain is greater than 5/10 on a pain scale – If their pain is too much, they may not be able to play up to their normal level or are modifying their play or technique to avoid or alleviate pain, or if they complain of pain or discomfort during periods of rest or with every day activities.