Nights filled with bright football stadium lights are upon us, afternoons sharp with the squeak of tennis shoes on gymnasium volleyball courts are here, and Saturdays spent romping on cross country fields have arrived! For many kids, these things mark the beginning of an exciting fall sports season, while many other children continue with their year-round sport of choice such as soccer, baseball, and gymnastics.
With the excitement that comes with a new school year and sports season, it is often all too easy for kids to risk injury and burn-out by spreading themselves too thin across too many activities or by immersing themselves too deeply within one activity.
We can help encourage a lifetime love of sports and healthy activities by placing this sports season in a healthy perspective for children and help prevent injuries caused by trying to do too much.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, overuse is the cause for nearly half of all injuries seen by pediatric sports medicine specialists. An overuse injury is one that is caused by repetitive actions that put too much stress on the muscles and bones. They can cause problems for kids’ growing bones, and if they are not given enough time to heal properly before restarting the activity, they can increase the chance for re-injury.
Common examples of overuse injuries that we see include:
- Shin splints (caused by running on hard surfaces)
- Little League elbow (caused by throwing)
- Jumper’s knee (caused by repetitive jumping and landing)
In addition to physical overuse injuries, children who practice too much can also experience “burn-out” or overtraining syndrome which can manifest as fatigue, changes in personality, and decreased enthusiasm for playing or competing.
So how can we ensure that this new season is safe and enjoyable?
As with anything, moderation appears to be key.
- Consider joining only one team per season.
- Limit training in a single sport to no more than 5 days a week to give kids at least 1 day off from any kind of organized physical activity.
- If possible, encourage kids to take a break between seasons if they are playing multiple sports.
- Make sure they understand the rules and general techniques of their sport.
- Encourage them to participate in sports that are appropriate for their size, skill level, and physical and emotional maturity.
- And above all else, encourage them to participate in sports and on teams that focus on fun, safety, learning skills, and sportsmanship.
An excellent and caring coach also serves as a level of protection, especially as our young athletes often look to them as role models – look for coaches who are trained in first aid and CPR, enforce the use of safety equipment, and don’t pressure kids to play too hard. At all levels of competition, it is important to warm up and cool down before and after each game and each practice, to drink plenty of water and rest adequately, and to use properly fitted safety gear.
At the first sign of overuse injury, talk with your child’s coach, trainer, or doctor – we are all here to help! Overuse injuries can be difficult to bounce back from, but by actively trying to prevent them, we can help to foster a lifelong love and appreciation for physical activity and healthy habits. Enjoy the new school year and sports season, and we’ll be cheering for your child in their chosen sport/activity!
Guest blogger, Lindsey Moore, MD joined Cedar Park Pediatric and Family Medicine in August 2012. Learn more about her at www.cedarparkdoctors.com