Southern California youth are participating in sports all year-round at
an ever-increasing rate. The increase in year-round athletics has been
accompanied by an increase in the occurrence of ACL tears, a common knee
injury among young athletes. A torn ACL is a partial or complete tear
in one of the ligaments that connects the upper and lower leg bones. It
can be caused by sudden twisting motion and is often accompanied by a loud pop.
The youth sports where we see the most ACL tears are soccer, basketball,
and football for boys. That’s because the knees are particularly
susceptible to injury when planting and turning.
To protect the knees, it’s important for young athletes to train
and learn how to move properly. Here are some basic training and playing
tips that will help prevent knee injury:
- Do exercises that strengthen the hips and thighs. Stronger hip and thigh
muscles will transfer less momentum to the knee when making sudden stops
- Practice good patterns of movement, like bending from the hips, and keeping
the knees over the toes. Don’t let the knees collapse inward when
planting or turning.
- Develop a sense of balance--good alignment allows for softer landings.
Another joint frequently injured in youth sports is the elbow. In this
case, most of the injuries occur in baseball and softball, especially
with year-round, single-sport play. The occurrence of serious shoulder
and elbow injuries among youth baseball and softball players has risen
fivefold since the year 2000.
Pitchers are at particular risk for little league elbow. This injury results
from the repetitive throwing motions that can overwork young arms and
elbows, resulting in micro-fractures of growth plates that have not fully
matured. Pain is felt on the pinky side of the elbow and is aggravated
Coaches and parents need to learn how to spot the signs of pain and overexertion
in their players, and follow these guidelines for preventing injuries
from overpitching and overthrowing:
- All players should be monitored to make sure they are throwing with proper
- Pitchers should always stretch their arm, shoulder and back muscles before
taking the mound.
- The types of pitches and number of pitches thrown should be limited in
accordance with USA Baseball’s recommendations for youth pitchers.
- Never encourage a child to pitch through pain or to pitch when fatigued.
If you suspect little league elbow, the child must cease play and see
No matter what sport they play, young athletes can reduce the risk of joint
injuries that keep them on the sideline by getting in shape and staying
in shape. Cross-training and participation in multiple sports are great
ways to limit overuse injuries and are often more enjoyable for the young
athlete than single-sport participation. If they are dedicated enough
to their favorite sport to want year-round training, they should follow
an off-season conditioning program that builds muscle strength, stamina
and range of motion. Being strong and flexible is the way to stay in the game.
Stephen T. Gardner, MD is an orthopedic surgeon at Mission Hospital. Learn
more about Dr. Gardner. Learn more about Mission Hospital.