What is happening? Why is this such a contentious issue? Why is it getting so much attention? Should I be concerned about my own kids? What can I do to protect my kids? As a parent and physiotherapist these issues are of interest to me. As a former volleyball collegiate athlete I reflect on my own experience and wonder what has changed? Why do we put our kids into organized sport? I think most parents would ultimately say for fun. Did you know the number one reason kids quit sports? It is no longer fun!
Injuries may be one of many reasons a sport is no longer fun. Yes injuries are a part of sport but in recent years there has been much research into the types of injuries young athletes are getting. Doctors are seeing a significant increase in overuse injuries in kids. These are the types of injuries that occur gradually over time when an athletic activity is repeated so often; areas of the body do not have enough time to heal between playing. These types of injuries occur in a wide range of sports, from baseball, soccer, basketball, gymnastics, etc. They can affect muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones and growth plates. Young athletes are still growing; often unevenly and thus pose a greater risk for injury than adults. Bones grow first, which pulls at tight muscles and tendons. This uneven pattern is what makes young athletes more susceptible to injury. Organized sport has grown tremendously in popularity; the pressure to compete has led a lot of children to specialize in one sport only. In the past kids changed sport with the seasons, but today it is common to play just one sport all year long and on more than one team. When this happens the same muscles are used continually and therefore the stress to those specific areas are unchanged. This often leads to muscle imbalances that when combined with overtraining and inadequate rest can lead to overuse injuries. Remember the reasons we put our kids in sport....fun! The pressure to specialize, play on elite teams, participate in extra training/coaching is becoming more of the norm. The promise of playing elite level sports or even professional is less than 1% of those who participate in youth sport. We only get one body and we must treat it with the respect it deserves so that it can serve us through out our life. This does begin when we are kids. The positive impact of sport on our physical literacy, health prevention, weight maintenance and fun should be at the forefront of our minds when we think about kids in sport. Some common overuse injuries include: 1. Sever's Disease (inflammation at the heel bone growth plate) 2. Osgood-Schlatter Disease (inflammation at the bony bump growth plate on the top of the shin bone) 3. Jumper’s Knee (Patellar Tendonitis) 4. Throwing injuries in the elbow 5. Stress fractures 6. Strains & Sprains Many overuse injuries are preventable! The most important advice is to avoid overdoing any single sport. Growing bodies need adequate rest between practices and games. Research is showing kids who diversify their time and play many sports end up doing better in their chosen sport later in life. What can you do? 1. Limit the number of teams in which your child is playing in one season. The more teams they are playing on in a season, the greater the risk of overuse injury. 2. Do not allow your child to play one sport year round. Taking regular breaks and playing other sports is essential to skill development and injury prevention. 3. Listen to your kids, watch them play, ask how they feel, ask how practice was. The earlier overuse injuries are identified and treated the faster they can heal. 4. If your child complains of pain, a period of rest from the sport is necessary. If pain persists it is important to seek out proper medical treatment. The return to sport must involve the athlete, parent, coach and health care provider. Have fun, keep moving!