Overuse injuries are common among all athletes, but they are particularly a concern among child athletes. According to STOP Sports Injuries, over 3.5 million children aged 14 and under are treated for sports injuries every year, accounting for almost 40% of sports injuries treated in hospitals. Additionally, high school athletes account for an estimated 2 million sports injuries every year.
Because children are still growing, they are at greater risk of injuries that can cause long-term damage. How do we keep child athletes safe? Statistics have shown that over half of overuse injuries in child athletes are preventable.
If you know how to spot the signs of these common overuse injuries, you can get your child treatment before the injury gets worse.
When the muscles become fatigued, the bones begin to take on some of the stress of physical activity. Bone tissue is constantly breaking down and rebuilding itself, but with the additional stress, the bone may not be able to rebuild itself quickly enough. This can lead to small cracks in the bone called stress fractures.
Stress fractures are most common in the lower legs and feet, which take on most of the stress from running. Stress fractures can cause pain in the affected area, particularly with activity. It is important to allow the bone to completely heal; returning to activity too quickly can cause re-injury.
Sprains and Strains
Repetitive stress to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your child’s body can result in a sprain or a strain. A sprain occurs when a ligament is stretched and/or torn, resulting in pain and swelling of the area. This type of injury is most common in the ankles, knees, and wrists.
Similarly, a strain occurs when a muscle or tendon is stretched and/or torn. Symptoms include pain, muscle spasms, muscle weakness, swelling, inflammation, and cramping. Strains are common in the feet, hamstrings, and back.
Growth Plate Injuries
The growth plate is the portion of a bone that helps the bone lengthen as children mature. They can be found near the ends of the longer bones in the body, such as the thighbone and forearm bones. When a child is fully grown, growth plates harden into solid bone.
Repetitive stress on the growth plates can cause pain in the area, and can lead to irregularities in the growth plate, such as widening. Though serious problems are rare, repetitive stress can cause permanent damage to the growth plate if your child does not receive proper treatment. This could result in crooked or uneven limbs.
Little League Elbow and Little League Shoulder
Little league elbow and little league shoulder are common growth plate injuries among young baseball pitchers. Little league elbow affects the growth plate on the inside of the elbow. It can cause aching, sharp pain, swelling, and sometimes a “pop” on the inside of the elbow while pitching. Eventually, it can lead to growth plate fractures, bone chips, juvenile arthritis, and bone spurs.
Though less common than little league elbow, little league shoulder affects the growth plate of the upper arm bone where it attaches at the shoulder. Little league shoulder can cause pain and weakness in the shoulder and reduce range of motion.
Sports can teach your children many valuable skills, but we also need to remember that children are still growing and need to take time to rest. As parents, we need to make sure that even seemingly minor injuries get treated as soon as possible.