Doctors, health organizations, and community groups have been telling parents
for a long time that their children should be more active, and parents
have been getting the message. But as more kids exercise their growing
bodies by playing organized sports, pediatricians are seeing an increase
in overuse injuries—young athletes getting hurt because they play
too hard or too much.
Take soccer, for example. This sport, which is rocketing in popularity
among American children, can cause heel, knee, and shin problems from
repeatedly kicking the ball. And consider little league elbow, swimmer’s
shoulder, runner’s knee—all of these common injuries are caused
by repetitive motion in sports that are popular among young people.
Overuse poses a greater threat to the athletic careers of teenage girls
than teenage boys, according to a new study. The study found that high
school female athletes are significantly more at risk of overuse injury
than their male schoolmates, especially if they participate in track,
field hockey, or lacrosse.
Sports-loving kids can avoid overdoing it by following these simple tips:
Taking a break. Playing the same sport for hours on end, several times a week, takes a
toll on a growing body. Regular exercise should be encouraged, but children
need to be given a reasonable break (at least one day a week) from competitive
sports. This allows their bodies to recover.
Playing on one team at a time. There is a greater chance of injuring the same body part repeatedly when
an athlete plays on several teams of the same sport at the same time,
or when the season for one sport overlaps with the season for another.
Limiting play to one team and one sport per season reduces the stress
that any particular muscle, bone, or joint must withstand.
Mixing the types of sports played. If your young athlete plays two or more sports, it’s best if she
takes on sports that give her diverse workouts. Girls who play sports
that use different muscles groups, like cross-country running and golf,
are less likely to have overuse injuries than those who play multiple
sports that work out the same muscles, like basketball and softball.
Training in ten percent increments. Young athletes eager to pump up their performance may push themselves
too far in their training routine. The American Academy of Pediatrics
recommends that training times, number of repetitions, and total distances
be increased by no more than 10 percent each week. For example, a swimmer
who swims laps for 10 hours a week could increase her total time to 11
hours the next week.
Keeping it fun. A child gets more out of sports when the focus is on enjoyment rather
than winning. Too much competitiveness can lead to ignoring the body’s
signals that it needs a time out, resulting in overuse injury. When organized
sports emphasize the development of physical skill and being part of a
team rather than winning a trophy or going pro, young athletes are less
likely to burn out; they’re also more likely to remain interested
in physical fitness over the course of their lives.
Have any ideas on how to avoid overuse injury in your favorite sport? Leave
a comment below.