Today’s Youth Sports Injuries and How to Keep Up

By Dr. Joshua B. Frank, OrthoConnecticut, Coastal Orthopedics

Lacross-girlsOver the years we have learned a tremendous amount about sports, physiology, bio-mechanics, and technique. This advancement in knowledge has allowed athletes to become faster, stronger, quicker, and more efficient.

Sports medicine has advanced concurrently, and there has been a particular focus on youth athletes. Sports injures can be thought of in two categories: acute and sub-acute, or chronic injuries.

Acute injuries can cause immediate pain, are often quite obvious. In some cases, the initial injury is not very dramatic and may not cause a person to stop playing sports. These injuries should be addressed in a timely manner, as negligence and lingering pain can cause permanent disability. Children can sustain similar injuries as adults, and we have witnessed that the diagnosis of pediatric anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscal injuries is on the rise. This may be related to increased awareness and better diagnosis of these injuries. If left untreated, these injuries may lead to further damage to the knee and even the onset of early arthritis. Acute knee injuries should be evaluated by a physician on medical professional and may require x-rays or MRI.

Sub-acute or chronic injuries can also sideline a young athlete. While sports are great and teach children excellent life skills as well as improve physical condition, there is a point where overuse of specific joints and muscles can be problematic. The threshhold may be different among different athletes and may change as a child grows.

In an effort to improve athletic ability, children and adolescents are often specializing in one sport and participating in that sport year-round. Whether it be on a team, in camp, or even in the backyard, year-round sports can lead to fatigue and injury. Overuse injuries can occur all over the body. Thee are even names to associate injuries with certain sports. For example, a chronic, over-use injury to the growth plate of the proximal humerus (shoulder) is known as “Little Leaguer’s Shoulder.”

Obviously, these types of injuries are not limited to baseball. We do not yet know how much time is too much time in gymnastics practice, or ice-skating or even playing basketball outside. We do believe that performing multiple sports over the course of a year allows for different muscles to be used and rested. Also, periods of rest and time without any major sports participation is also beneficial.

Another important recommendation is to prepare for the upcoming season well in advance. A period of limited activity followed by a sudden onset of intense training can easily lead to aggravation of growth plates, tendons, and apophyses. In general, a graduated schedule of increased activity with appropriate stretching may help prevent these conditions. Even though training camp often begins in August, young athletes should be preparing on their own, well in advance of these intense training periods.

We are delighted to see so many youth engaged in fitness and athletic activities, especially as obesity rates grow in the country. With the increased prevalence of childhood obesity, it has become even more evident that many children are not nearly active enough. With appropriate training, rest, and conditioning we hope to prevent many injuries and keep our young athletes safer.