How to prevent and treat sports-related injuries in young athletes
It may come as a surprise to many parents, but sports-related injuries are the second leading cause of emergency room visits in children and adolescents across the country. And Texas is no exception. Home to more than 7 million youth and an ever-increasing population of young athletes, Texas is a hotbed for sports injuries among children.
“We have the second busiest pediatric Emergency Department in the country here at Children’s Health℠, and we see an increasing number of children coming in to be treated for sports-related injuries,” said Chris Redman, M.D., pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Children’s Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. “We see a wide range of sports injuries, but the most common things are what we consider overuse activities, or using the same joint or muscle over and over.”
Overuse and Specialization
Children today are beginning to play sports at an increasingly younger age. Soccer leagues and youth football, for instance, can start as young as 3 years old. Starting to play sports at an earlier age inevitably causes injuries younger.
And gone are the days of seasonal sports when children would switch from football to baseball to track and field. In today’s competitive sports environment, many children are focusing on one sport and playing year-round with no rest – a term experts in the field call specialization.
This singular focus on one sport oftentimes leads youth athletes to overuse, meaning a young boy who plays baseball year-round or a young girl playing club soccer will continue to use the same joints and muscles over and over. This can lead to problems with growth of the bones and problems with the muscles, in addition to a host of other injuries, including sprains, strains, fractures, concussions and ACL tears.
Prevention and Treatment
To reduce overuse injuries, Dr. Redman recommends that youth athletes change sports at least one season a year, noting that cross training is important to their overall development and rest of overused muscles and joints. He also recommends athletes have at least two months a year off, where they are not playing or training for a specific sport. This allows the body time to recover, rest and recuperate.
Proper technique is another important consideration when preventing any sports-related injury, as well as taking in all factors contributing to fatigue. For instance, a lot of families don’t realize that even though they are watching pitch count, it takes more than just the number of pitches. A lot of pitchers will also play catcher when they are not pitching so they are still throwing and still doing that repetitive motion. Trying to avoid that overuse and continual throwing activity will help young players.
If you think your child may have an injury, Dr. Redman offers the following advice to determine the injury and next steps:
- First, listen to your child. If they tell you they are in pain, take them seriously.
- If the child doesn’t respond to RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) treatment, there may be something more serious happening and they should be evaluated.
- Look for limping or the child not using his or her extremities, such as their arm. If they are holding their arm to the side and not using it, it may be a fracture or another more serious injury.
- If there is any swelling or decreased motion of a joint, that is also an area of concern.
If you notice any of these symptoms, you should make an appointment with your pediatrician or a specialist for further evaluation.
Despite the risks of sports-related injuries, Dr. Redman reminds parents that there are also many benefits of athletics for children. “Playing sports is very important. It’s important for cognition and intellectual abilities and it encourages teambuilding that helps with tasks later in life,” he says. “It’s important for student athletes to build up their bodies now and stay healthy while they are young because we know long term that plays a role in their overall health.”
The only pediatric institute of its kind in Texas, the Children’s Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine aims at reducing the number of children being sidelined from injury. Learn more about our programs and services.
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