Same sport year round? Your child's body will pay the price.
About 30 million U.S. children and adolescents currently participate in organized sports, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). On one hand, that’s a victory. An active life beginning at a young age comes with seemingly endless benefits, including reduced risk of obesity and diseases such as cancer, heart attack, stroke and diabetes. On the other hand, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) notes a significant increase in overuse injuries in children, with most of these injuries sports-related.
Are we cheering on our children to the breaking point?
Overuse injury is caused by excessive repetitive motion, and it can be a serious problem for younger athletes who specialize in one sport year-round, Doing the exact same moves over and over without giving their body a break.
A child plays baseball in the summer, attends baseball clinics in the fall and winter, begins intense training in the spring and then the cycle starts again. This kind of constant stress is tough on every athlete at any age emphasizes. For a child whose bones are still growing and developing, this level of repetition can lead to injury, chronic pain and possibly even impaired growth. Their bodies just can’t take it.
Many young athletes play their preferred sport 12 months a year and on multiple teams, like a school team, a traveling team and a city team. That’s another reason why we’re seeing an increase in overuse injuries in children.
A recent study that looked at about 5,600 athletes age 18 or younger. Compared to athletes who played a wide variety of sports, youth who specialized the most were 81% more likely to experience an overuse injury.
Parents and coaches should look for these four signs to recognize when a child may be headed for or suffering from an overuse injury:
1. Pain. If a child experiences chronic pain yet there’s no singular injury or accident to pin the pain on, it’s time to seek medical help and discuss the possibility of an overuse injury.
2. Swelling. When a child’s joint swells up and needs to be repeatedly iced down, but there’s no identifiable moment of injury, this is a sign of overuse.
3. Changes in form or technique. If, for example, your son or daughter starts throwing the ball differently — without a coach introducing a new technique — it might mean the child is making accommodations for physical pain from an overuse injury.
4. Lack of interest in the sport. Burnout can be due to emotional issues as well as physical reasons. “The child may be trying to relieve their pain by simply not playing any more. I see this a lot in my office. In fact, I see more physical burnout than emotional burnout,” Dr. Lifrak says.