Overuse injuries in children have been on the rise in recent years, a problem often attributed to sports. Many children participate in several sports throughout the year. While the physical aspect of sports can help children avoid health problems like obesity, too much of a good thing can put them at greater risk of injury.
What Are Overuse Injuries?
Overuse injuries, such as jumper’s knee, stress fractures, or strains, can happen throughout the body, but often occur in the elbows, shoulders, knees, and feet. The muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones can all be affected. Overuse injuries can even cause damage to the growth plates, which are located at the ends of the longer bones in the body and regulate growth in the bones. Growth plates are generally weaker than the rest of the bones, and are therefore more susceptible to injury, which can affect normal growth in the bones.
Overuse injuries occur when the same muscle groups are used repetitively, putting significant stress on those areas. Children are especially susceptible to overuse injuries because they are still growing. The bones grow first and can pull at the muscles and tendons, making them tighter. Muscle tightness from bone growth combined with repetitive use increases the chance of an overuse injury. These injuries are common in children who participate in one sport throughout the year, or only participate in sports that put stress on one area of the body. For example, while baseball and tennis are different sports, both require significant involvement of the upper body. Common symptoms of overuse injuries include pain, especially during physical activity, swelling, and changes in form or technique.
Preventing Overuse Injuries
Overuse injuries in children can often be prevented with the right precautions. Here are some things you can do to reduce your child’s risk of overuse injuries.
- Limit the number of sports your child plays for each season. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children play no more than one sport per season to reduce the risk of overuse injuries.
- Have your child participate in a variety of sports. The AAP also recommends that a child should not “specialize” in one sport until they reach puberty to avoid burnout at a young age. If your child only wants to participate in one sport, make sure he or she is taking breaks and not participating year-round.
- Make sure your child is training for the sport. Conditioning exercises and training help your children to maintain fitness and teach them the proper techniques for the sport. Also, make sure your child continues physical activity during the off-season so that their bodies are prepared to return to the sport.
- Make time for rest. Children should not participate in sports activities 7 days a week. Children should have at least one day of rest per week to allow their bodies to recover.
Though sports can offer many benefits for children, we need to make sure that they aren’t pushing themselves too hard or taking on too much. Not all injuries are preventable, but many overuse injuries are preventable with the right precautions and training. Sports should be fun, not a cause for injury.