Chronic Overuse Injuries in Kids

doctor examining boy with football injury

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The number of kids and teenagers showing up in the doctor's office with overuse injuries, such as tendonitis, is climbing dramatically, according to Boston Children's Hospital.

Nationally renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews said that he is seeing four times as many overuse injuries in youth sports than five years ago and more kids are having surgery for chronic sports injuries.

Why Are Kids Getting Overuse Injuries?

Experts attribute this increase to the fact that more youth today are specializing in one sport at an early age and training year-round. All these injuries can be linked to overuse; doing too much, too often.

Gone are the days of switching to a new sport each season; the two or three-sport young athlete seems to be a thing of the past as the competition, access, and seasons expand to year-round.

Another factor cited in a review of sports-related overuse injuries in children is that there has been a decrease in regular daily physical activity outside of dedicated sports training time. The injuries are most often seen in the epiphyseal cartilage, especially in the knees, ankles, and feet. Girls are more at risk according to a 2015 study.

The highest proportions of overuse injuries were seen in tennis, swimming, dancing, track, running, gymnastics and cheerleading.

Youth Sports Specialization Has a Price in Overuse Injury

This sports specialization seems to have come with a price. Playing a variety of different sports throughout the year was a form of cross-training that was extremely beneficial to a young body's physical development.

Playing multiple sports, at different times of the year gives some muscles a chance to rest while others are being worked. Now those same muscles and joints are used non-stop and have no recovery time.

Training the same muscles year-round is believed to be the main cause of the rise in overuse injuries in young athletes. Repetitive stress can cause young bodies to break down. When you stress the same body parts over and over again, there's a risk of injury.

Kids Should Play a Variety of Sports and Avoid Specializing

Young athletes need to vary their training just like pros do. All pros have an off-season where they change their training routine and rest more. They still specialize in one sport, but they adjust their seasonal training to allow complete recovery.

No athlete at any age can play a sport year-round at 100% without risking injury or reduced performance.

Many physicians who treat these injured kids feel that the solution is education for parents and coaches so that they can see the warning signs and pull kids off the field before injuries get serious.

The American College of Sports Medicine has published Injury Prevention Guidelines for Young Athletes as a reference for kids, parents, and coaches seeking to keep kids safe during sports.

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Article Sources
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  • Stracciolini A, Casciano R, Friedman HL, Meehan WP 3rd, Micheli LJ. A closer look at overuse injuries in the pediatric athlete. Clin J Sport Med. 2015 Jan;25(1):30-5. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0000000000000105.

  • Alabama Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center
  • The American College of Sports Medicine