Overuse Injuries in Children: 10 Tips to Keep your Favorite Athlete Injury-free!
Posted on April 3, 2014
By Cari Kelly, PT, DPT
As our nation has become more aware of the adverse effect of inactivity in childhood, the rate of youth participating in organized sports has been on the rise. In fact, 60 million children between 6-18 years old in the United States are now participating in organized athletics. There are many benefits to this trend, such as increased self-esteem, socialization with peers, increased general fitness, learning skills such as teamwork and leadership, and most importantly, being involved in sports is fun!
However, with every benefit there is always a risk. As the focus of participation and skill development shifts to competition as early sports specialization and training becomes more intense at an earlier age, overuse injuries have become more common. Overuse injuries result from microtrauma to bone, tendon or muscles from repetitive stress when the body is not given sufficient time to heel.
Some common overuse injuries include: knee pain (from Osgood-Schlatter disease, patella-femoral pain syndrome), ankle pain (from tendonitis or Sever’s disease), elbow pain (from Little Leaguer’s Elbow), and stress fractures that can occur in the foot, ankle, leg, spine, arm, wrist and hand.
In response to this risk of developing overuse injuries, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine recently performed a review of current literature, and developed a position statement to help identify kids who are at risk of developing these injuries, and provide recommendations for overuse injury prevention.
Their recommendations can help keep your kids in the game and safe from developing overuse injuries:
- Emphasize skill development, not competition. As the pressure to succeed increases at an early age and training becomes more intense, focusing too much on winning and not enough on skill development can lead to overuse injury and burnout.
- Avoid early sports specialization; instead encourage kids to be involved in multiple sports that target different skills. Early sports specialization does not necessarily lead to long team success in sports, and in fact may lead to an increased risk for developing an overuse injury.
When children focus on one sport too early they lose out on developing the fundamental skills they need to prevent overuse injuries as they grow. Being involved in a variety of activities in early childhood will help build the foundations of a healthy athlete. Different sports build different fundamental skills, such as balance, coordination, strength, and agility that will help them become a well-rounded athlete and prevent injuries when they get older and they focus on one or two sports.
- Recognize risk factors to adjust sporting activity accordingly. Prior injury and higher training volumes predict future overuse injuries. Injuries are more likely to occur during growth sprits so monitor adolescent growth spurts and adjust training workload accordingly.
- Make sure that their equipment fits appropriately. Poor fitting equipment makes you have poor biomechanics and may contribute to overuse injuries. So make sure equipment is updated as your child grows.
- Avoid overscheduling. Competing in multiple events in the same day or over consecutive days may contribute to overuse injuries
- Allow recovery time. Limit weekly and yearly participation times, especially sport specific repetitive movements, and schedule rest periods, such as allowing 1-2 days off per week or a few weeks off a year to let the body recover
- Assess sport-readiness. When setting goals and expectations for children it is important to assess their cognitive and motor skill development to make sure they are ready for the demands that the sport they are entering requires.
- Keep an eye out for signs of overtraining syndrome/burnout. These include: lack of enjoyment participating in their sport, decreased nutrition and hydration, mood changes, decreased performance despite regular training.
- Encourage pre-season conditioning. Preseason condition can reduce injury rates, especially lower extremity injuries in youth athletes. Regular participation in resistance training can improve bone health and body composition and potentially reduce sport-related injuries.
- When an injury occurs address the underlying cause. Addressing the underlying cause of an injury is essential to not only get your child back to doing what they love injury-free, but also helps avoid recurrent injuries so they can stay in the game!