Kids who play organized sports stand to gain a myriad of benefits, ranging from increased physical fitness to improved self-discipline and better sportsmanship. Getting in the game also helps young athletes learn what it means to be part of a team.
Despite its substantial benefits, playing sports also carries a significant drawback that’s worthy of parental consideration: No matter what their fitness level, skillset, or sport of choice happen to be, active children and adolescents have a greater chance of getting injured.
At Sports Medicine Oregon in Tigard and Wilsonville, Oregon, the pediatric sports injuries we see most often aren’t the acute kind caused by a one-time accident; they’re the overuse kind caused by repetitive stress.
Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to reduce your young athlete’s risk of sustaining a repetitive stress injury while playing their favorite sport. Here’s what you should know.
What is a repetitive stress injury?
A repetitive stress injury is exactly what it sounds like: A chronic “overuse” injury that occurs when the musculoskeletal bears repeated bouts of stress without adequate recovery time in between.
Specifically, these injuries develop when repeated motions such as swinging a tennis racket, running, or swimming the butterfly place specific muscles, bones, joints, tendons, or ligaments under ongoing strain that isn’t properly eased through rest.
While overuse injuries are a common problem for athletes of all ages and skill levels, they tend to be a greater concern in growing kids because they can disrupt normal bone growth.
Overuse injuries account for about half of all pediatric sports injuries. The potential for sustaining a repetitive stress injury increases substantially as kids get older, bigger, and stronger — particularly if they’re committed to a specific sport.
Repetitive stress injury prevention tips
There’s a lot you can do to protect your young athlete from succumbing to a repetitive stress injury, whether it’s their first season of traveling soccer or their tenth consecutive year of competitive gymnastics. Here are five effective strategies:
1. Get a pre-season sports physical
Organized youth sports teams usually require participants to undergo a sports physical, and for good reason — a preparticipation physical evaluation (PPE) can help establish if they’re fit to play or if they have an underlying health condition that may limit their ability to play.
2. Support cross-training and variety
Many kids have a strong desire to focus on a single sport, and often, they want to play that sport year-round. Unfortunately, single-sport specialization is a major cause of repetitive stress injuries — and burnout — in young athletes.
Cross-training, or participating in a variety of different sports or physical activities, is one of the best ways to help active kids prevent overuse injuries and avoid burnout. Proper cross-training means limiting your child or teen to one sport per season, while encouraging them to try different activities from one season to the next.
Cross-training serves two purposes: It ensures your young athlete isn’t always placing the same exact type of stress on the same muscles, joints, and connective tissues, and it makes them stronger by fostering balanced muscle strength and joint stability.
3. Prioritize rest and recovery
Just as cross-training reduces a young athlete’s risk of developing uneven musculoskeletal strain, getting enough rest between training sessions, games, and competitions helps ensure their body recovers adequately.
Intense physical activity can push your child’s growing body to the max, and proper recovery is the only way to reset their mind and prepare their body to do it all over again at the next practice or competitive event. This means resting after every scheduled activity, and taking at least one full “rest day” each week.
4. Promote pain-free sports play
Even if your young athlete is cleared to play, develops a great cross-training plan, and figures out how much rest they need to fully recover, their injury prevention plan isn’t complete until they’ve learned the importance of listening to their bodies and respecting their physical limits.
To that end, make sure your child or teen knows that they should never “play through the pain,” because doing so may lead to a more serious injury that could have been prevented by stepping out of the game and stepping back for an assessment.
And when they do have pain, don’t ignore it; bring them in to Sports Medicine Oregon for a comprehensive evaluation — our team is committed to helping your athlete stay safe and healthy so they can get back in the game as quickly as possible.
Call or use the easy online booking tool to schedule a visit with one of our trusted sports medicine experts.