With spring approaching and warmer temperatures on the horizon, many different sports seasons will soon begin and kids will naturally start migrating outdoors. According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost 30 million children and adolescents participate in youth sports in the United States, and that number continues to rise each year.
For many of us, some of our fondest memories growing up were made on the field- likely many fields. Participation in sports offers children and adolescents numerous well-known benefits. Kids learn teamwork, how to honor commitments, how to cultivate a work ethic, responsibility, problem solving, and how to set goals, among many others. Not to mention, many fellow athletes become life-long friends.
However, even with all of the benefits, adults – parents, teachers, coaches, and neighbors- can help steward young athletes and teach them to properly care for their bodies on and off of the field.
In sports, there are essentially two types of injuries: acute injuries and overuse injuries. Acute injuries are usually the result of a single, traumatic event. Common examples include wrist fractures, ankle sprains, hamstring muscle strain, and shoulder dislocations.
Overuse injuries, however, are actually more common in sports than acute injuries because they are subtler and usually occur over time, potentially over the duration of a specific sports season. Because of this, they are challenging to diagnose and treat. Overuse injuries are the result of repetitive micro-trauma to the tendons, bones and joints. Common examples include tennis elbow, swimmer’s shoulder, youth pitching elbow, runner’s knee, and shin splints.
“Overuse injuries have reached epidemic proportions in youth sports over the last decade, and they are a product of too much time with the same sport and not enough rest,” said Dr. Chad Hosemann, a surgeon at Capital Ortho. “They take an emotional toll on kids because they try to deal with injuries while continuing to feel pressure to return to sport from their coaches and, unfortunately, sometimes even their parents.”
After industry professionals – comprised of physicians, sports medicine therapists, physical therapists, and orthopedic surgeons – began to notice a growing trend, particularly among young athletes, the development of STOP (Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention) Sports Injuries was initiated by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine in early 2007. STOP Sports Injuries aims to educate and equip teachers, students, coaches, providers, and parents on ways to detect overuse injuries and ultimately prevent them in the future.
Although sports injuries can be as various as the sports themselves, the most common sports that can result in overuse injuries are baseball, basketball, cheerleading, dance, football, golf, soccer, softball, running, and swimming. For youth athletes, overuse injuries are responsible for almost half of all sports injuries in middle and high school students, and the CDC states that most are preventable with proper treatment and rest.
While sports seasons last for a defined period of time each year, practices are year-round. This causes youth to overextend and accumulate overuse injuries throughout the duration of the year. In fact, 62% of all sports-related injuries occur during practice, and one-third of parents admit to not making their children take the same safety precautions during practice that they would during a game.
For many children whose bodies are already growing, changing, and developing at a rapid pace during childhood, year-round sports may not allow them to adequately rest their bones, tendons and joints, and this contributes to increased stress and potentially lifetime playing consequences.
“We are seeing young athletes specializing in one particular sport at a very early age and this is unlike previous generations when children would participate in multiple different sports throughout the year,” said Dr. Hosemann. “Today’s athletes are not only focusing on one specific sport, they are also focusing on one specific position such as pitching. This phenomena, along with year-round playing due to ‘select’ or ‘travel’ teams, has led to a dramatic rise in stress fractures and tendon and ligament injuries never before seen in children.”
However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Most of us want our kids to participate and enjoy various sports; however, there are things we can do to prevent overuse injuries and keep them in the games they love for life.
At Capital Ortho we aim to help our patients identify the areas of pain in their bodies, and we need to teach our kids to listen to their bodies and do the same. We can start by mitigating the words, “No Pain, No Gain.” If there is pain, it is there for a reason. This is especially true for youth as 45% of children under the age of 14 will report pain at the conclusion of a specific sporting season. Regardless of age, we have to understand that pain – any pain – is not the norm.
“It is imperative that coaches and parents understand that when symptoms arise from overuse injuries young athletes undergo appropriate rest periods prior to returning to play,” said Dr. Hosemann. “As a father myself, the best way to slow this epidemic is to educate parents and children about overuse injuries so we can prevent them before they start.”
Capital Ortho is a proud supporter of the STOP Sports Injuries initiative, and we have the STOP Sports Injuries link on our website (www.capitalortho.com) to equip parents, coaches, healthcare providers, and teachers with resources to identify and prevent specific overuse injuries. As the next sporting season in your child’s life prepares to begin, we encourage you to join us as we seek to stop and prevent overuse injuries.