Fifty percent of all sports-related injuries in children ages 5-14 are due to overuse. This number was only 10 percent 30 years ago! This information is compiled by the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children and is the guiding statistic for the creation of the Rocky Mountain Youth Sports Medicine Institute.
Dr. Brooke Pengel is the medical director of the Youth Sports Institute and part of her many duties include program development and community outreach. The alarming rise in overuse injuries is something parents need to know about and learn how to prevent and treat. What activity level defines a child as an athlete? According to Dr. Pengel, “even a child that jumps on a trampoline or swings on the monkey bars is an athlete.” Basically, if a child is active, he or she is an athlete. It is the level of activity and amount of rest in between that brings up concern.
What is an overuse injury?
Overuse injuries happen to children of all levels of involvement in sports. An overuse injury is “a micro traumatic injury to a bone, muscle or tendon that has been subjected to repetitve stress without sufficient time to heal or undergo the natural healing process,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Causes of Overuse Injuries
Depending on the athlete, the amount of sports involvment can play a role in the development of overuse injuries. “Too much activity and not enough rest and recovery time can cause the muscle tissue to break down and cause the child pain,” Dr. Pengel said. It is not shocking to see a 9 year old child play multiple sports in one season or even the same sport but on different types of teams (school, traveling). Overlapping seasons and multiple team involvement without the needed rest time can cause stress on a child’s growing and developing muscles. But super active child athletes are not the only ones at risk. Children that wear poorly padded shoes like sandals and crocs are at risk for developing Severs Disease – a temporary injury to the heel bone.
Prevention of Overuse Injuries
Simply put, a way to prevent overuse injuries is to give the child time to rest. “It would be ideal if athletes had a couple months where they were not training competitively,” Dr. Pengel said, “They need rest days.” Whether your child is involved in competitive sports or not, pay attention to the volume of activity and make sure you schedule in rest times. It is very important not to ignore the child’s complaints of pain. “Some people will write it off as growing pains,” Dr. Pengel said, “but pain is the body’s way of telling us something is not right.” Another excellent way to prevent overuse is to cross train – mix up the activities and muscles used. If a child is a baseball player, for example, cross train with swimming. Finally, gradually build up to a certain level of activity. Dr. Pengle said that going from a couch potato to serious athlete too quickly will wear down the muscles a lot faster.
Treatment of Overuse Injuries
Rest and physical therapy are key to healing these injuries. A child with an injury in the arm might be worried that they will have to be forced to warm the bench but actually cross training can help the physical therapy. So if a baseball player hurts their arm help them train with soccer. Work and train the other parts of the body that are unharmed. But keep rest at the top of the list.
These are just a few of the key bits of information the Rocky Mountain Youth Sports Medicine Institute shares with the community around it. They are located in Denver, CO and serve families in KS, Nevada and NE too. They work hard to “manage, rehabilitate and prevent sports injuries.” You can view their website for more information about all their services and programs.