Year-round sports can lead to overuse injuries in kids

By: Kenneth Huh, M.D., pediatric orthopedic surgeon, Orthopedic Center, MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach

Overuse injuries occur over time in the bone, muscle, ligament or tendon when stress happens to the same part of the body repetitively. Overuse injuries are different from acute injuries, such as a broken bone caused by a fall, since the damage is not done immediately.

What Are Overuse Injuries?

Overuse injuries are common in young athletes who play one sport throughout the year with their school team and a travel team. Pitcher’s elbow is a common overuse injury because pitchers repeat the same motion frequently. This means that the elbow may not have enough time to heal, which can lead to a gradual injury of the tendons or ligaments, and in some cases fractures.

Common overuse injuries, include:

• ACL injuries

• Anterior knee pain

• Fractures

• Growth plate injuries

• Jumpers’ knee (patellar tendonitis)

• Little Leaguers’ elbow or shoulder

• Meniscus tears

• Osteocondritis dissecans

• Sever’s disease

• Shin splints

• Sinding-Laarsen-Johansson disease

• Spondylolisthesis

• Spondyloysis

There are several signs parents can monitor to help identify potential overuse injuries:

• Pain not caused by an acute injury

• Pain that increases with activity

• Swelling

• Changes in form or technique

One strategy to prevent overuse injuries is to encourage a child to play a variety of sports. Different sports require different body movements. Rotating sports by season will give the specific muscles and joints used in that sport time to heal and rest.

Another strategy is to plan for adequate rest time. Once a full season or league is finished, the child should take about a month off to rest and heal. In addition to time off between seasons, it’s important to rest during the season. Scheduling rest days each week will help ensure the child doesn’t over train.

If a child is experiencing pain, it’s important to take a break from physical activity. Pushing through the pain can cause more damage to their growing bones. Any time a child experiences pain that doesn’t go away with normal pain management techniques, it’s important to talk to their physician. Early interventions may help prevent a future injury. At some point, constant practice doesn’t make perfect, but could actually bring an end to your child’s sports career.

Bones heal differently in children than adults – especially if a sports injury requires surgery. Because kids are constantly growing and developing, they need specialized pediatric orthopedic care. There are specialized pediatric orthopedic doctors in a neighborhood near you.

Miller Children’s & Women’s has hospital-based outpatient specialty centers from the South Bay to Orange County (Fountain Valley and Irvine), so a child with a sports injury can be treated close to home by pediatric orthopedic specialists.

You can always call 800-MEMORIAL (636-6742) or visit millerchildrens.org/Ortho to get information about the clinic closest to you.

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