How You Can Help Your Young Athlete Avoid Overuse Injuries

Focus on good instruction, equipment and a break between sports
How You Can Help Your Young Athlete Avoid Overuse Injuries

Whether your child is a serious, elite athlete or an active youth who is passionate about sports, he or she can be at risk for an overuse injury.

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Overuse injuries are one of the most common causes of injuries in pediatric and adolescent athletes, says sports medicine physician Dominic King, DO. Up to half of all injuries seen in pediatric sports medicine are related to overuse, he says.

Overuse injuries happen when you overtax your muscles and bones repeatedly and over time, resulting in micro-trauma to the tendons, bones and joints. Unlike other kinds of sudden, painful injuries, however, overuse injuries are more subtle and usually not apparent at first.

The result is weakened tendons or inflamed tissues around a joint. Overuse injuries encompass a broad range of conditions, including tendonitis, stress fractures, jumper’s knee, Osgood-Schlatter disease and Little League elbow.

Serious issue 

The kinds of injuries are a serious issue for children and teens because their bones are still growing and cannot handle as much stress as the mature bones of adults, Dr. King says. This leads to overuse injuries unique to young patients.

In recent years, the number of overuse injuries among youngsters has increased – a result of the growing number s of children who are participating in organized competitive sports, Overuse injuries typically happen for one of two reasons, Dr. King says.

“It can be the result of overtraining or increasing the physical activity level too fast, or else it is due to improper mechanical technique,” he says. “Whatever the cause, an overuse injury can end up sidelining the young athlete.”

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Avoiding overuse injury

You can help your youngster avoid an overuse injury by helping him or her get ready for a sport or an activity.

It’s also wise to make sure that your child learns the right mechanical technique for the sport and proper form from a qualified instructor, coach or athletic trainer, Dr. King says.

If possible, help your child build skills and strength before the sports season starts. Toss the ball, go to the batting cages or do stretches together.

It’s also important to teach your child to take pain and tiredness seriously. Although a new activity often produces sore muscles, pain can be a sign of injury, Dr. King says.

“Tell your child there’s nothing noble about ignoring pain or playing through pain,” Dr. King says.  “Pain should be reported promptly to the coach or teacher so that it can be properly evaluated.”

Parents also should make sure their young athletes get enough rest and proper nutrition, Dr. King says.

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Multiple sports

Parents also can help their children avoid overuse injuries by not allowing them to participate in sports year-round or play on multiple teams simultaneously, Dr. King says.

“These athletes are at risk of overuse injuries if they do not get enough rest between their daily activities or a break between sports seasons,” Dr. King says.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting one sport to no more than five days a week, with at least one day off each week from any organized physical activity.

The AAP also suggests that athletes have at least two to three months off each year from their sport.

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