Sports-Related Injuries in Children
When kids return to sport in the Spring, this usually marks the beginning of an intense season that often continues right through until September. Many kids have already been going full force since they started back in September with school teams and travel teams in the Fall. Followed by winter training to get an “edge” on their opponent, they are ready for Spring training. Many children now never have an off-season break or time to rest and recover. The summer used to be the off-season; however, now, for many kids in structured sports, it is a continuation of what has already been an intense season of training, playing games, and weekend tournaments. Many families plan vacations around practices and away tournaments as we support our mini athletes.
Watching a child excel export can be exhilarating, especially when you consider future opportunities, whether it’s a college scholarship or a real shot at a pro contract, but too often in our society win-at-all -cost mindsets, overzealous parents and coaches push kids and teens beyond the limits, with little regard of how that intense pressure affects them physically and mentally. Perhaps you have seen it firsthand: a child is encouraged to get back into the game and tough out an injury. Or you see a child limping on the field or not playing their best but not able to sit out the game.
What are the statistics?
In the US alone, about 30 million children participate in some type of structured sports ranging from town recreational leagues to elite and traveling teams. For most of us older folks, youth sports was just another way for us to play, socialize, let off some steam, and get outside while our parents cooked dinner. However, today’s youth sports have become much more competitive than they were 20 years ago, and this competition is forcing children to start playing at more intense and elite levels at a younger age. This change has led to an increase in childhood orthopedic injuries.
A recent study showed that 41% of all orthopedic injuries presenting to the emergency room are sports-related injuries in children ages 5 through 21. In fact, there are roughly 3.5 million injuries that occur yearly in children under the age of 21, with an average age of injury being 12 years old. High school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits, and 30,000 hospitalizations a year!
Due to the fact that many kids do not get the rest they used to, this extensive amount of play can often lead to overuse injuries because their developing and growing bodies are not able to go through a needed period of rest.
Any child who plays sport is at risk for injury. Many kids used to play different sports during different seasons, such as football in the Fall, baseball in the spring, summer track, and winter sports such as wrestling. This allowed other muscles to be used for different sports, thereby decreasing the injury risk. However, many kids are specializing in one sport early on.
What do the studies show about sports injuries?
Studies have shown repetitive movements of any sort can lead to injury. Children’s bodies are growing and have immature skeletons. The bones are still soft and forming and are susceptible to injury. As children participate in competitive sports and mimic their favorite athlete, they fail to realize the amount of training these athletes undergo to play their sport. Athletes are consistently training, whether using an off-season or an in-season program.
62% of injuries actually happen during practice and not the game, but 1/3 of parents do not have their children take the same precautions as they would during a game. Time and time again, when we evaluate children for physical therapy who injure themselves when playing a sport, they usually state they do not do any training off the field. Using the sport as a form of training is incorrect. Using this method of training is like telling a Major League Baseball pitcher the only exercise they should do is to throw a ball a hundred times per day at 100 MPH; they wouldn’t last a week without an injury! Our bodies need to be physically fit to be able to both practice for our sport and then compete in it. The goal of practicing the sport is to improve your skill, not to train your body!
We can help!
There are many things we can do to help reduce the risk of our children becoming injured. For one, make sure they are getting enough rest. Do children really need to be on three different teams for the same sport? Adequate rest is essential for recovery. Another method for our active young athletes is to participate in various sports. This allows for “cross-training” and negates potential overuse. Children who are very competitive should also participate in exercise/strengthening programs.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, prepubescent children can safely engage in resistive exercising by focusing on higher repetitions and lower weights. In other words, any weight that they can adequately perform greater than eight repetitions. Lastly, any play activity such as tag, hide-and-seek, monkey bars, bike riding, swimming, etc., are excellent ways of cross-training—statistics from stopsportsinjuries.org.
For more information, please do not hesitate to talk to any of our experienced therapists here at Forward Motion Physical Therapy. Call us at 973-400-3730 or click here to book an appointment. We can also perform a Movement Assessment using the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) or Selective Functional Movement system.