Avoiding Overuse Injuries in Young Athletes
During summer, many kids will be involved in different camps, activities and sports teams, and it’s important for parents to be aware of the potential for overuse injuries. Cynthia Labella, MD, Medical Director of the Institute for Sports Medicine at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, shares who is at risk for overuse injury and how to prevent these injuries from happening.
What Is an Overuse Injury?
An overuse injury is an injury to the bones, muscles, ligaments or tendons caused by repetitive stress. You are overusing that particular part of the body. Overuse injuries are common in sports with repetitive motions like baseball, tennis and gymnastics. Repeated stress without appropriate recovery time in between will eventually cause a tissue breakdown and that’s when you start to feel pain. Pain with the activity is the presenting symptom. It is not good to push through because usually that’s the body’s way of telling you something is going on.
Who Is at Risk?
Anyone who does a repetitive motion is at risk for an overuse injury, whether it’s a sport or another activity you’re doing every day without a break. Children are still growing so they have a few more spots in their bodies that can get overuse injuries. Their growth centers are located in very specific areas of the bones that are made up of soft cartilage. That soft cartilage is not as hard and resilient as bone so it’s not able to withstand stress as well. Those growth centers are usually the spots where we see kids getting overuse injuries.
How Do You Prevent Overuse Injuries?
When starting a new physical activity, make sure you ease into it gradually. For example, don’t go from not running at all to running three miles a day. You want to start with a small amount a couple times a week. Then gradually add a bit more- say about 10 percent per week. Even in sports like soccer or baseball you want to make sure you start with one or two practices a week. Start gradually, build slowly, don’t push through pain and make sure you’re getting proper instruction in the skill. If you’re not using the right technique, you can be put more stress on some of the body structures where the repetitive motion is centered.
Physical activity is great for kids and sports are a great way to get that physical activity. Just make sure the sport and schedule match a child’s developmental and fitness level. Parents should check in frequently with their child to make sure there are no warning signs that their child is starting to brew an injury. We encourage kids to let someone know if they’re hurting to not push through, and to take a break. If the pain goes away with a short break, that’s great but if it doesn’t and rest isn’t helping, then it should be looked at by a physician.