Injuries in Youth Sports and How to Avoid Them
While athletic injuries in youth seem to occur at the same rate as professional athletes, the types of injuries we see in our younger patients are much different. This is due to the fact that younger athletes are still growing and developing. Because their growth is generally uneven (bones are growing first resulting in tight muscles and tendons) we tend to see more muscle, tendon and growth plate injuries in this group of athletes than in professional athletes.
Types of Injuries
Typically young athletes fall into one of two categories when injured – acute injuries and overuse injuries.
Acute injuries happen as a result of sudden trauma that includes a twist, jolt, compression or impact to a bone or tendon (sometimes both). Typically, there isn’t much that we can do to prevent these types of injuries as they are unpredictable and, unfortunately, part of the game. Treatment and healing time of these injuries vary widely based on the extent and location of the trauma.
Overuse injuries occur gradually over time with repetitive activities that don’t allow proper healing of tendons, bones, ligaments, or muscles between workouts. Without proper recovery, soft tissue and bones begin to weaken and become more susceptible to injury. This can lead to tendonitis, subluxation, and even stress fractures.
A stress fracture is a common overuse injury that can sideline a player for 8 weeks or longer in some extreme cases. Bones are constantly growing and changing in both adults and youth. It’s a process called remodeling. Old bone is shed and it is replaced by new bone. In some athletes that push through aches and pains and continue to exercise on weakened joints or bones, the older bone breaks down more rapidly and the new bone growth is unable to keep up with the remodeling process. This creates susceptibility to injury and with continued use, will result in a stress fracture to the bone. The most common stress fractures we see are in a shin bone or in one of the 26 bones found in the ankles and feet.
How to Prevent Overuse Injuries
The good news is that overuse injuries, unlike acute injuries, are avoidable if caught early. It’s a balancing game for sure. With students playing school sports beginning as early as middle school, it’s hard to tell if a child is just complaining of pain because their body is adjusting to a new movement or workout or if the child actually has an injury that needs to be addressed. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we will sometimes see young athletes that won’t verbalize the pain they are feeling for fear that they will be pulled from the game or sidelined. It is important for coaches and parents to be aware of their children’s movement or gait and ask questions if they suspect a possible injury. In some cases, it could just mean a few days of ice and rest to avoid an overuse injury and allow their body to heal. If this time off isn’t allowed and the body can’t recover properly, the athlete may be out for an entire season or worse due to an overuse injury.
It’s always safest to err on the side of caution and ask a professional if you suspect you child may have an injury. While coaches have years of experience working with youth and can offer great advice on stretching, proper ice use and strengthening exercise, they are not the experts when it comes to orthopedics. We’d be happy to help assess your child’s needs and get them back in the game as safely and quickly as possible.