Each year over 60 million youth and adolescents in the United States participate in organized sports. Sports participation provides many benefits including developing lifelong physical activity skills, socializing, having fun with peers, building teamwork and leadership skills, and improving self-esteem. 2.6 million youth athletes are seen in emergency rooms each year for sports and recreational injuries.
Listed below are some of the most common pediatric overuse injuries:
- Sever’s disease – Also known as “calcaneal apophysitis”, this is the most common cause of heel pain in the growing young athlete and results from repetitive micro trauma to the growth plate in the heel. It generally occurs in children 8 to 12 years of age and boys are affected more often than girls. Factors that can lead to this injury are participation in sports or activities that involve running or jumping, poor running form and lack of calf flexibility.
- Osgood-Schlatter disease – This condition is usually caused by irritation of the growth plate at the insertion of the patellar tendon at the top of the shin. It generally occurs in children 9 to 14 years of age who have undergone a rapid growth spurt. It is most commonly seen in boys, and occurs with sports that involve running, cutting, and jumping. It usually presents as pain in front of the knee that is worse with activity and improves with rest.
- Little league shoulder – Refers to chronic, repetitive micro trauma of the shoulder growth plate. This condition is mainly found in baseball pitchers between the ages of 11 and 14 as well as in tennis players and swimmers.
- Little League elbow- Refers to repetitive stress to the growth plate on the inside of the elbow. This injury is most common in pitchers but occur in other positions such as catchers, infielders, and outfielders.
- Stress fractures of the lumbar spine “spondylolysis”- A stress fracture is when a bone breaks after being subjected to repeated tensile or compressive stresses. Spondylolysis usually occurs in the low back, frequently in athletes whose sport involves repetitive spinal loads, particularly extension.
- Concussion – An injury to the brain caused by a blow to the head or body. While not an overuse injury it is important to mention as it requires immediate removal from play and consultation with a physician who specializes in concussions.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, current recommendations for safe participation in youth sports include:
- Taking one month off from a sport at least three times per year which allows for physical and psychological recovery
- Taking one to two days off per week from a sport
- Limiting hours of weekly sports participation to the individual’s age (i.e. a 12 year old should limit sports participation to 12 hours per week)
- Participating in a variety of sports and delaying specializing in a single sport until late adolescence. Sports specialization is defined as “intensive year-round training in a single sport at the exclusion of other sports” and has been linked to high training volumes, and injuries in youth athletes.
Michelle Yang, PT, DPT, CSCS, has a special interest in working with young athletes and injury prevention. She is certified in kinesiotape and selective functional movement assessment. Additionally, she is a certified Schroth therapist for scoliosis specific treatment. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and training for marathons.