As the old adage says, practice makes perfect. For teen athletes, too much practice can have lasting consequences.
Pressure on teens who play sports is greater than ever. However, the intense training required to keep up with the competition can lead to overuse (also known as repetitive stress) injuries. These injuries are becoming more frequent among young athletes who play nearly all sports, but they are particularly common in sports such as baseball, swimming, track, gymnastics and dance.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, common overuse injuries in children include:
- Sever’s disease—This occurs when your teen hits a growth spurt and experiences heel pain and inflammation. Running and jumping are frequently the culprits.
- Osgood-Schlatter disease— Running and jumping contribute to the development of this disease. It is caused by inflammation in the growth plate that sits above the shin bone, leading to pain in the front of the knee. If athletes don’t rest and allow Osgood-Schlatter disease to resolve, the condition can lead to fractures that may require surgery.
- Jumper’s knee—This overuse injury causes pain in the lower part of the kneecap. Stress from jumping irritates the tendon attached to the kneecap.
- Elbow injuries—Pitching in baseball, or overhand throwing involved in any sport, can stress the elbow’s growth plates. “Little Leaguer’s elbow,” in which overhand throwing causes pain inside the elbow, is one example of this type of injury.
- Stress fractures—Excessively tired muscles can shift the stress they can no longer carry to bones, making those bones prone to small cracks called stress fractures. Sudden increase in activity, such as running or dancing after taking the summer off, is a common cause. Bones in the lower legs and feet—those that bear weight—are most often affected.
Treating and Preventing Overuse Injuries
Most overuse injuries improve after a period of rest, but, as with any illness or injury, prevention is the best remedy. To prevent overuse injuries:
- Take your teen for a pre-participation physical before sports season begins. His/her healthcare provider can pinpoint any potential problems.
- Be sure your teen warms up and cools down properly and maintains good conditioning throughout the sports season.
- Encourage your child to cross-train or play multiple sports. Specializing in a single sport, especially if he/she plays that sport year-round, increases the risk of overuse injury.
- Limit participation in practices, games or other training to five days a week, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Additionally, the AAP recommends increasing training time, miles or repetitions just 10 percent each week.
- For sport-specific guidance on preventing overuse injuries, visit org.