The Overuse Injury Epidemic: How to Keep Your Kids Safe and Enjoying Their Sport

More kids are playing sports today than ever before. As the number of youth participating in athletics continues to rise, we are also seeing an increase in overuse injuries in these children. An overuse injury is one that occurs when repetitive stresses are placed upon a part of the body without adequate rest. These injuries can be quite painful, lead to missed playing time, and if left untreated they can develop into more serious conditions.

Some examples of overuse injuries include:

  • Tendinitis: When a muscle is used over and over again, the muscle and its tendon can become irritated and painful. This happens with repetitive motions without a proper amount of rest between training sessions or competitions, and can be exacerbated by poor training technique.
  • Stress Fracture: When a bone is stressed repeatedly without proper recovery, small fractures can develop within the bone. If not treated with rest, the fractures can worsen with continued activity.
  • Overtraining / Burnout: This occurs when an athlete is training and competing at a high volume for a long time without adequate rest, often playing a single sport all year round. In addition to pain, fatigue, and decreased performance, the athlete can also demonstrate psychological and behavioral changes, such as losing enjoyment in the sport that they used to love.

There are many more specific types of overuse injuries, but they all have similar causes: too much training with not enough rest. Poor form with training can also put an athlete at risk for developing an overuse injury, so it is important that coaches and trainers ensure athletes develop proper technique to avoid harm.

Sport Specialization

One factor that has been linked to the increase in overuse injuries is the concept of “sport specialization.” This refers to when a young athlete only participates in a single sport which they train for year-round. Playing the same sport all year long means the athlete performs the same motions over and over again, which can potentially lead to the injuries listed above.

Preventing Overuse Injuries

  1. Rest: Athletes should get plenty of rest between practices, training sessions, and competitions (1-2 days off per week), as well as a period of rest (2 months) between competitive seasons in order to allow the body to fully recover. An athlete should not push through pain.
  2. Change it up: If an athlete chooses to play sports year-round, playing different sports throughout the year can help prevent overuse injuries that can occur with sport specialization.

Treatment

If an athlete has an overuse injury, a sports medicine team consisting of sports medicine doctors, physical therapists, athletic trainers, and others can help the athlete recover and safely return to activity. They can also address any underlying strength or flexibility deficits that might predispose the athlete to future injuries.

If you or someone you know has an overuse injury that isn’t improving with rest or is worsening, or just want more information about physical therapy and athletic training services, please call the Institute for Athletic Medicine (IAM) at 612-672-7100 or the 24-hour Injury Hotline at 952-920-8850. Visit us online at athleticmedicine.org.

Written by: Christian Hintz DPT, IAM Sports Resident