Playing sports is a way for children to grow physically, mentally and socially. It means learning about work ethics, teamwork and builds character while having fun! However, young athletes are at risk for serious injuries which keep them from playing the sports they love. These are either acute (e.g. from a single traumatic event) or from over-use.
Over-use injuries account for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle and high school students in the US and 3.5 million children under the age of 14 receive treatment for sport related injuries yearly. Luckily, more than half of all children’s sports injuries are preventable, according to the Center for Disease Control (STOP Sports Injuries).
What is an over-use injury?
Over-use injuries refer to injuries which come from a sustained repeated action. The respective body part does not receive enough time to recover and adapt until more stress is applied to it. Instead of a strengthening of various tissues involved such as tendons, muscles and joints when exercising, the overload may result in microscopic injuries and cause inflammation. One example of this is swimmer’s shoulder, which is a term describing the most common injury in swimmers, pain in the shoulder.
What causes an over-use injury?
Over-use injuries develop over time and the signs can be subtle to begin with. Practicing too much and too hard is the most common cause. Other common causes are faulty technique, lack of endurance or appropriate muscle strength, training errors, incorrect equipment, poor core stability, inflexibility and muscle imbalance (meaning that muscles are strong and tight versus loose and stretched).
What are signs of an over-use injury? (Physioworks)
-Warmth in touch (when resting)
-Impaired function of the specific body part
-Different stages of discomfort e.g. discomfort during warm-up which disappears later, discomfort that becomes worse during the activity
Preventing injuries should be on top of every coach and parent’s mind. Using knee sleeves to project the joints from over-use is one preventative measure, along with making sure your child receives the proper rest, warm-up, and confidence to speak up if they feel pain. Children should not be encouraged to play through the pain as that can make the injury worse, shown by research from STOP Sports Injuries. Contact a physician – the sooner the better, to receive a diagnosis.
How to prevent over-use injuries in young athletes?
Many times children tell their coaches or parents if they are in pain and don’t feel well. Other times children hide it. It is crucial to pay attention to various signs of injury e.g. whether they avoid putting weight on specific body parts (limping), have difficulties sleeping, or appear to be stiff in joints or muscles.
Tips for how to prevent your child from over-use injuries:
-It’s important that a proper warm-up is done before an intense activity, encourage this! Ensure that cool-down is done afterwards as well.
-Technique makes a difference, try to ensure that coaches help your child to do the correct technique.
-Encourage your child to listen and focus on his or her coach.
-Allow your child’s body to recover by increasing training gradually. The 10% rule implies that one shouldn’t increase activity more than 10% weekly (speed, weight, distance etc.)
-If your child complains about pain or discomfort, listen early on!
-Use properly fitted equipment that is the right size and for your child’s level of play. Be sure to have regular check-ups on equipment and replace when necessary.
-Hydrating and taking water breaks are good ideas.
-If your child has been injured, see to that he or she is fully rehabilitated before they start to exercise again. Your child may compensate an old injury by increasing stress on another body part. That in turn may cause an over-use injury.
-Encourage taking a break and let your child rest and recover.
-Do not specialize too early but rather have your child play different sports during the year so he or she gets the opportunity to use different muscle groups.
-Try to mix up activity.
Inspire your young athlete to give it their all doing something they love. For further tips and sport specific injury prevention facts, head over to STOP Sports Injuries.
STOP Sports Injuries, Youth Sports Injuries Statistics, available at: http://www.stopsportsinjuries.org/STOP/Resources/Statistics/STOP/Resources/Statistics.aspx?hkey=24daffdf-5313-4970-a47d-ed621dfc7b9b
STOP Sports Injuries, How to prevent and spot overuse injuries in kids, (2010) available at: http://www.stopsportsinjuries.org/stop/downloads/PreventAndSpotOveruseInjuries.pdf
Physioworks AU, Overuse Injuries, available at:
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