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Playing sports can be a great way for kids to build character, make friends, and promote physical fitness.
In recent years, organized youth sports have become more prevalent. Though little league and recreational sports have existed in some form for many years, there has been a shift more recently emphasizing the competition rather than enjoyable aspects of sports. With the increase in many different forms of organized sports at younger ages, there has also been an increase in overuse injuries in middle and high school aged athletes.
Overuse injuries occur when there is not a proper resting period between games or training sessions. Acute injuries like a sprained or broken ankle occur as a result of a specific traumatic event. Overuse injuries are more nuanced and can be more difficult to diagnose right away. These injuries are caused by continual trauma to the tendons, bones, and joints. Recurring trauma to the same area of the body prevents healing and can cause irreversible damage that might not show up until the child is older.
Certain athletes are more prone to overuse injuries than others. There are a variety of contributing factors including age, technique, and genetics. Adequate recovery times are vital for preventing the micro-trauma that leads to overuse injuries. When athletes first start playing a sport, they are not experienced in using proper techniques. It is important that trainers, coaches, and parents play close attention to training schedules, as well as any adjustments they see in the athletes’ technique. These kinds of injuries can be difficult to detect because of their subtle nature, but early detection is vital in preventing further injury and injuries later in life.
Overuse injuries are prevalent across all age groups, but there are certain ones that are specific to children and the activities they are involved with. Certain stress reactions and fractures can be detrimental to the normal growth processes in children and adolescents. Some of the overuse injuries that orthopedists commonly report seeing include:
- Stress reaction of the growth plates: Also known as physis, this reaction is painful and, if left untreated, can impair growth. Stress caused by overuse can lead to a damaged growth plate. When growth plates are damaged enough children will stop growing at the age when the injury becomes severe. Gymnastics is a sport that this condition is seen in commonly.
- Jumper’s Knee: This injury is seen most commonly in children and adolescents who participate in jumping sports like volleyball and basketball, though athletes who play other sports also report the painful symptoms. It is caused by repeated contraction of the quadriceps, which results in stress of the patellar tendon where it attaches to the kneecap. Athletes with Jumper’s Knee experience pain in the lower portion of the kneecap.
- Throwing injuries: When children start pitching at young ages, they risk damaging their elbows. The stress of the motion of pitching causes inflammation in the ligaments, cartilage, and growth plates in the elbow.
- Little Leaguer’s Elbow: Medial apophysitis, as it is also known, causes pain on the bump on the inside of the elbow. The muscles that control wrist motion attach to this area of the elbow, and excessive overhand throwing can cause damage to the growth plate.
The injuries listed are just a portion of the many injuries that youth athletes experience if they are not resting or training properly. Generally, treatment for these injuries includes applying ice to the painful area, taking anti-inflammatory medications, and abstaining from all physical activity until the pain stops. If you are concerned that your child might be at risk for an overuse injury, learning more about the warning signs is helpful. For more information about sports injuries and how to prevent them, contact your doctor.