As more and more kids participate in youth sport programs these days, millions of kids get treated each year for sports-related injuries. A large number of these injuries are overuse injuries. The board-certified sports medicine physicians at EmergeOrtho—Blue Ridge Region are passionate about this cause. We are not only highly trained in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of overuse injuries, but we’re also athletes, coaches, fans, and community parents.
What is an Overuse Injury?
An overuse injury is damage to a bone, muscle, ligament, tendon, or growth plate caused by repetitive stress. Overuse injuries occur gradually over time, when an athletic activity is repeated too often without rest. Improper or insufficient warm-ups, overly-long workouts, failure to stretch regularly, and lack of rest between sessions can contribute to these injuries. An overuse injury can happen to kids playing all kinds of sports, from football, gymnastics, and soccer to baseball, swimming, and tennis.
What Causes an Overuse Injury?
Young athletes are at greater risk for sports injuries than adults because the youth athletes are still growing. There are several biological and situational factors that can cause kids to suffer an overuse injury:
Growing bones: The growth plates are the weak areas of a child’s arms, legs, hands, and feet. Since growth plates are softer than the rest of the bone, they are more vulnerable to injury from repetitive stress.
Growth spurts: During a growth spurt, a child’s bones grow rapidly but do not become strong at the same pace, making the bones more susceptible to injury.
Prior injury: If your child has had a previous injury, repetitive stress in that area can be aggravated by overuse.
Improper training: Starting a new activity without learning the proper moves and taking the time to build up strength in the muscles and bones can increase the odds of an overuse injury.
There are a few symptoms that may be a sign your child has an injury:
- Tingling, numbness, pain or inflammation
- Pain that gets progressively worse
- Soreness in the neck or back
- Weakness in the hands, arms, or legs
- Popping or clicking sensation
If the pain persists, your child should take a rest and seek proper medical treatment before returning to the sport.
How Can You Prevent Youth Sports Injuries?
Schedule a Sports Physical: A sports physical can help identify signs of potential overuse injury and suggest ways to prevent the injury.
Build Strength: Proper sport-centric conditioning exercises during practice can strengthen the muscles used in play.
Increase flexibility: Stretching exercises done after a sport activity can increase flexibility, but dynamic warm ups before exercise have been shown to be most effective at increasing flexibility and possibly preventing injuries.
Learn Proper Techniques: Training kids to perform technically-correct movements and use their sports equipment correctly will help them “up their game” and lower their chance of injury.
Gear Up: Kids should wear appropriate and properly fitted protective equipment such as pads, helmets, face guards, mouthpieces, protective cups, and eyewear.
Warm-Up: Engage in warm-up exercises to help prepare your child’s body for higher-level activities.
Take A Break: Rest periods during practice and games can reduce injuries and prevent heat-related injuries and illness.
Hydrate: Drink plenty of water to keep muscles safe and pliable. To ensure your child is hydrated, experts recommend 30-minute water breaks during sporting activities.
Play Safe: Know all the rules of the game. Reinforcing the rules with young athletes and stressing the importance of safe and sportsmanlike conduct minimizes the potential for serious injuries.
Don’t Play Through Pain: Stop the activity if a kid shows signs of pain. Pushing through the pain, even allowing one extra post-pain pitch, sprint, kick, etc. can lead to an overuse injury.
Cool Downs: Every workout should end with gentle stretching and mindful breathing exercises to help keep muscles limber, bring the heart rate down, and ease the body into a resting state.
Get A Rest: Playing a sport while sick or tired can increase the likelihood of overuse injuries in children. Experts recommend kids take at least one day off per-week from training to allow the body to rest.
Many overuse injuries can be prevented. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons have partnered with STOP Sports Injuries to help educate parents and young athletes about how to prevent overuse injuries.
If your child plans to play a sport this school year, give them a healthy edge: schedule a sports physical to make sure they are ready to play and learn some of the fitness and safety measures elite athletes in all sports use to protect their bodies, optimize their performance, and “bring their best game.” Schedule an appointment today.