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Overuse injuries in youth sports

Sherri Kuhn writes about raising teenagers, the perils of a clean home, wistfulness over babies, and anything else that makes her laugh (or cry) in the years between changing diapers and wearing them. With a son just starting college and...

Prevention is key

The world of youth sports has become way more competitive in recent years. Many kids have played 10 years of competitive sports by the time they enter high school. Overuse injuries are a real concern — especially in a few sports — and staying on top of your child's physical condition is key.

Girl soccer player with ankle injury

Youth sports are a great way for your child to get some exercise, learn teamwork and develop an athletic skill. More kids are getting involved in sports at a younger age — and training year-round — putting them at greater risk for overuse injuries and burnout. How can you make sure that sports stay fun for your child and don’t wear her down?

What is an overuse injury?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an overuse injury is microtraumatic damage to a bone, muscle or tendon that has been subjected to repetitive stress without sufficient time to heal or undergo the natural reparative process. As the popularity of youth sports has surged, so has the incidence of overuse injuries. Because children's bones are still growing and aren't able to take as much stress as adult bones, these injuries are often more serious in children. Recognizing early signs of injury is important to getting the proper treatment. Swelling or tenderness without direct injury, and stiffness or aching after competition or training can be warning signs and should be attended to.

While kids who focus on one particular sport year-round are at risk for overuse injuries, athletes who use the same part of their body for multiple sports are also at risk — think swimming and pitching, for example. Many athletes who play multiple sports have overlapping seasons and are participating on more than one team at a time. Injuries due to overuse can result in long rehabilitation time, physical therapy and possibly even surgery.

Avoiding surgery with yoga

Dana Santas is founder and director of Radius Yoga Conditioning, a yoga training and consulting business that offers sport- and athlete-specific yoga programs. Dana has worked with dozens of high-school athletes, many of whom came to her due to overuse injuries. “One such kid was a 14-year-old baseball player and hockey player who was told he'd need Tommy John surgery due to his overuse injury — at the age of 14! As a mother of my own 13-year-old son, who plays both football and lacrosse,” Santas shares, “I cringe at the thought of such extensive surgery at such a young age. Thankfully, I was able to work with the boy in question to help him avoid the surgery and restore his strength and mobility,” she adds.

Burnout

Participating in youth sports is a great way to instill a lifelong appreciation for physical activity, teamwork and fun. These days many parents, coaches and athletes have more serious goals in mind. When a child athlete is being pushed by the goals and dreams of parents — to secure a scholarship or a spot on the Olympic team, for example — the risk of burnout increases. Sometimes the athlete is the one who pushes himself, with a goal of playing in college or professionally. Chronic pain, fatigue, lack of enthusiasm and poor athletic performance can all be signs of burnout.

Prevention guidelines

How can parents and coaches encourage young athletes to care for their bodies and still enjoy their sports? The AAP recommends the following guidelines:

  • Keep practice and workouts fun and interesting by mixing it up with games and different drills.
  • Take a break from training and competition in your sport every two to three months, using this time to participate in other activities or do cross-training.
  • Encourage young athletes to mix it up a bit by trying new activities and taking one or two days off per week to let your body rest.
  • Teach young athletes to listen to the clues their body is sending, with an emphasis on overall wellness.

By helping young athletes care for their bodies you can help reduce the risk of overuse injuries and help them stay active through adolescence and into their young adulthood.

More kids and sports

How far should you push kids at sports?
Parenting Guru: How to prevent sports injuries
Should you let your child quit sports?

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