Tips for Young Athletes to Avoid Overuse Injuries
By Dr. Carolyn Kienstra is a pediatric sports medicine expert at the UHealth Sports Medicine Institute,
part of the University of Miami Health System.
“No pain, no gain.” Right? Wrong.
Not if you want a young athlete to have a long, rewarding and healthy life that includes sports and fitness.
It’s normal for any athlete to experience some stiffness or soreness after a hard workout. But pain is different. It’s our body’s way of letting us know that we are doing something wrong — either doing too much or doing things incorrectly.
About half of all sports injuries in young athletes are from overuse. An overuse injury is an injury to a bone or muscle that develops over time. As a tissue undergoes repetitive stress, it needs enough time to heal and recover. Growing tissue in children and adolescents makes them susceptible. They can even develop specific overuse injuries not seen in adults.
If your young athlete complains of pain, discuss it with your child. Sometimes vague aches and pains are also signs that a child no longer enjoys a certain activity, but any pain that is consistent, worsening, or affects a child’s activity should be evaluated by a physician.
When aches and pains are the result of an injury, treatment is important. Often, the sooner an overuse injury is addressed, the quicker the recovery. Treatment usually requires rest or a modification in training to allow for tissue healing. The best route?
Prevent overuse injuries before they can occur by using the following tips:
- Have young athletes take at least one to two days off per week to allow time for recovery.
- Add increases in training slowly — no more than 10 percent per week, whether practice hours, distance covered or intensity.
- If a child or teen is returning to fall sports after summer vacation, encourage training or conditioning on their own a few weeks in advance.
- Rotate sports: Young athletes should take two to three months away from a specific sport throughout the year. The change helps them to develop broader strengths and skills. Studies also show that it can make them even better at their main sport.
- Most importantly, have fun! The focus in youth sports should be on enjoyment, developing skills, participating safely and learning good sportsmanship and teamwork. These valuable lessons will last long beyond the sports season.
Do you suspect your child is suffering from an overuse injury? Contact your pediatrician or a sports medicine physician at the UHealth Sport Medicine Institute at 305-243-3000.