How to Avoid Overuse Injuries in Children

Published June 6, 2022

In recent years, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of children engaging in intense, year-round training for a single sport. While this practice may lead to improved skill development and performance, the young athlete that “specializes” in only one sport loses the opportunity to allow stressed body parts to rest and heal, often leading to over-use injuries. Overuse injuries are responsible for as many as half of all sports injuries in the United States. They occur when there is too much stress on a bone, muscle, or tendon, and adequate time is not taken to allow the injured tissue to heal. The causes of this cycle of worsening damage are numerous, and include competitive pressures, parental priorities, heroic practice, game schedules, and a sense of not wanting to “let the team down.”

youth sports

Although the mindset of playing through pain is common in athletes, parents, and coaches, there are a few clues that a seemingly minor ache may signal a more serious problem. The following are symptoms of overuse injuries that may require medical attention:

  • Pain in a muscle, tendon, or bone during games or practices (even if the child can play).

  • Pain that continues after a game or practice.

  • Pain that prevents the athlete from performing at his or her typical level.

  • Pain that causes an alteration in the child’s mechanics or gait in order to participate.

  • Constant or chronic pain, even when not playing.

Keeping tabs on an athlete’s training schedule, nutrition, and athletic equipment may help parents avoid the development of injuries in their child. Limiting training to no more than five days a week and varying specific exercises from day to day allow stressed tissues time to heal.

Important benefits to sports participation in the pediatric population include the opportunity for children to interact with one another and to inspire excitement in working to reach personal or team goals. Intense training and game schedules and external pressures may transform a once pleasurable sports experience into a tedious burden. Parents should ensure that their student-athlete remains enthusiastic about an activity. Loss of interest in a sport may spread to other pursuits, such as academics. Increased moodiness, fatigue, or constant joint and muscle pain are outward manifestations of sports burnout and should facilitate open communication between athletes and parents regarding the benefit of continued participation. Sports can be a valuable experience for both children and families. The athlete’s goals must be made a priority, even at the expense of those of parents and coaches. With proper guidance and encouragement, the reward of sports participation can be a vital part of a child’s development. Avoiding overuse injuries and burnout are important aspects of successful athletic involvement. Parents can play a huge role in assuring that these problems don’t limit their child’s opportunity to fulfill the foremost purpose of sports – to have fun.

At the Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics, we are experienced helping patients with a variety of conditions regain proper function and mobility, prevent re-injury, and live a happy, full life. Schedule your appointment today.