In the United States, there are 30 million children that participate in organized sports. Participation in high school athletics is increasing, with more than 7.3 million high school students participating annually. This contributes to a high volume of injuries with the CDC reporting 2 million high school student injuries annually including 500,00 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations. That’s a lot of injuries for our kids!
Why is this happening? Young athletes are specializing in sports and positions at an earlier age than in previous generations with more than 3.5 million children under the age of 14 treated annually for sports injuries. Immature bones, insufficient rest after injury, poor training and conditioning, specialization in just one sport, and year round participation are contributing to overuse injuries. This type of injury account for 50% of all sports injuries in middle school and high school and is very preventable.
What is overuse? It is considered excessive and repetitive use that results in injury to the bones, muscles, or tendons involved in action. Children are NOT little adults and their body structures are still forming. A child’s epiphseal plates (commonly know as the growth plates) continue to grow until 14-16 for boys and 12-14 for girls and are especially susceptible to injury. Being injured as a child increases their risk factor for future injury during both their youth and adulthood as well as contributing to long term degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis.
There are many things that we can do as parents to help prevent this. Children should have mandated pre-season physicals. This is a great way to discover an injury while it’s still minor. Also, coaches and parents should enforce warm-up and cool down routines as well as proper strength training and nutrition. Make sure children are drinking proper amounts of water and are educated on proper nutrition for performance. Encourage kids to speak with an athletic trainer, coach, or physician if they are having pain. Treat symptoms and injuries early. Discourage the teaching of curve balls until high school or puberty. Mandate a 3 month ‘rest period’ each year for throwing athletes and limit the number of pitches and tournaments or games played a season. Discourage early specialization in a particular sport or position and encourage distribution across a variety of different positions and sports. This will generate a better overall biomechanical exercise routine for a growing child enabling their developing bodies to experience more and different dynamic movements, thus reducing the predisposition to any type of overuse injury.