Sports participation promotes the physical and emotional well-being of children, and also encourages a lifelong habit of exercise. Although the benefits of athletic activity are significant, too much activity can lead to injury.
In recent years, orthopedic physicians have begun to see young athletes with significant increase in overuse injuries. In most cases, these are sports related.
Overuse injuries occur gradually over time, when an athletic activity is repeated so often that some areas of the body do not have enough time to recover between playing. For example, overhand pitching in baseball can result in injuries to the elbow, and swimming is often associated with injuries of the shoulder.
Because young athletes are still growing, they are at greater risk of injury than adults. The consequences of overdoing a sport can include injuries that impair growth and may lead to long-term health problems.
When a young athlete repeatedly complains of pain, a period of rest from the sport is necessary. If pain persists, it is important to seek proper medical treatment. To ensure the best possible recovery, athletes, coaches and parents must follow safe guidelines to plan a return to the game.
Overuse injuries occur in a wide range of sports, from baseball and basketball to track, soccer and gymnastics. Some of these injuries are unique to a certain sport, such as throwing injuries of the elbow and shoulder that are prevalent in baseball players. The most common overuse injuries involve the knee and foot.
Overuse injuries can affect muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones and growth plates. In children, these structures are still growing, and the growth is generally uneven. Bones grow first, which pull at tight muscles and tendons. This uneven growth pattern makes young athletes more susceptible to muscle, tendon and growth plate injuries.
Growth plates are those areas of developing cartilage where bone growth occurs in children. The growth plates are weaker than the nearby ligaments and tendons. Repetitive stress can lead to injury of the growth plate and disrupt normal growth of the bone.
Concerned your young athlete may be developing an overuse injury? Make time to talk with a board certified orthopedic physician who specializes in the care of young athletes.