Overuse injuries in young athletes
Is your child athletic? Great! Participating in sports can encourage a lifelong love of exercise. There are also benefits to your child’s physical and mental well-being.
While children are recommended to get at least 60 minutes of exercise each day, be aware of your child causing an overuse injury. Overuse injuries do not generally happen suddenly like a sprain or broken bone. This type of injury occurs over time and can be more likely if your child plays a sport with a repetitive movement like baseball, softball, swimming or running.
What is affected?
Bones grow first pulling muscles and tendons. Because of this uneven growth, muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones and growth plates are at risk for injury from overuse.
What is a growth plate?
As a child’s bones are developing cartilage forms areas called “growth plates.” These areas are weaker than the nearby ligaments and tendons. Repetitive stress on these areas can cause injury.
Can my child play a sport safely?
To help your child avoid an overuse injury – be aware of the time your child practices as well as whether he is in pain during the sport. In generations past, most children played a variety of sports throughout the year. When a young athlete plays a single sport the stress on a specific body area is prolonged – increasing the risk for overuse injuries.
As an example, for a young pitcher, an overuse injury often develops in the elbow or shoulder. Your child may feel pain after or while throwing. If the injury is severe, he or she may be in pain all the time. If your child complains of pain, a period of rest from that sport may be recommended. If pain persists, you should have your child evaluated for injury.
You can also help your child avoid an overuse injury by limiting the amount of repetition. For example, if your child is a pitcher, experts recommend no more than 125 pitches per week without adequate rest between outings for children younger than 14.
Also ensure your child has:
- Proper equipment
- Adequate hydration (one cup of water or sports drink every 15 to 20 minutes during heavy exercise)
- A good understanding of the rules of play. Rules are focused on safety as well as fairness and sportsmanship
- A medical evaluation (sports physical) before the season of play begins to rule out any hidden problems