Study reveals young athletes sustain more overuse injuries

October 31, 2014

Topic: orthopaedic problems, injury prevention for children

Researchers found that regardless of the sport, more young athletes are sustaining injuries as a result of overuse.

Researchers found that regardless of the sport, more young athletes are sustaining injuries as a result of overuse. The study authors believe it may have a lot to do with specialization.

Lead researcher Matthew Silvis, M.D., noted that more young athletes are selecting one sport to play and fully focus on, instead of playing multiple sports. Silvis noted parents may be behind the push for specialization, hoping that starting to focus on one sport young will deliver the promise of a scholarship or better.

The wrong focus
The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine noted that this pressure causes young athletes to begin practicing sports much more intensely than is appropriate for their age. Focusing on intensive training and competing instead of skill development can lead to burnout and overuse injuries. They also noted that approximately 43 percent of young athletes only participate in one sport throughout the year. The amount of estimated overuse injuries range between 45 percent and 54 percent of players.

However, many professional athletes did not begin playing the sport they do now at a young age. They played multiple sports, and succeeded in all of them.

Silvis works with many different levels of athletes, including young ones. He often finds himself encouraging parents to have their children play multiple sports, noting the positives of diversification. Realizing how to identify and prevent overuse injuries is key, Silvis stated.

"So much of it is blamed on growing pains," Silvis said in a statement. "But it's not all just that."

A hidden injury
Overuse injuries and trauma injuries are very different. Trauma injuries immediately are painful and cause athletes to stop playing for a certain period of time. Overuse injuries are not like that. Athletes may continue to play through an injury without realizing they have one until it is too late.

"The pain starts gradually, maybe as an ache, maybe lasting longer and longer after the activity is finished. Eventually, it starts to interfere with participation," Silvis said in a statement.

Joints that are not immediately painful but may be stiff, achy, tender, swollen or cause an athlete to deliberately miss training sessions because of the pain are all indicators of an overuse injury.

Unlike older athletes with overuse injuries, there are not many treatment options for young athletes. This age group has open growth plates, so surgical options could possibly damage the bone, leading to arthritis and other orthopaedic problems.

Taking the right steps
Silvis noted that certain organizations are taking the proper measures for injury prevention for children. For example, USA Youth Baseball offers all of its athletes adequate recommendations and guidelines to help decrease the chances of overuse injuries.

Apps can also help the young athletes. Ones such as "Throw Like A Pro" can determine how many pitches athletes should be throwing and how many rest days they should take, depending on their age. It also suggests tips for preparing before a season begins and how to properly warm up before a game.

Silvis noted the importance of actually listening to the information athletes have access to. If a young athlete is injured because of playing too much, they stop having fun. The main focus should be on young children enjoying themselves while playing. 

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