How to Prevent Overuse Injuries in Young Athletes

Every year in the United States, roughly 30 million kids and teens take part in sports, either at their schools or with a community or independent group. And every year, about 3.5 million kids have sports injuries that keep them benched, at least for part of their season.

There’s no way to completely eliminate the risk of sports injuries in young athletes. But there are ways to reduce the risk, including learning ways to limit injuries associated with overuse.

As a leading orthopaedic practice with offices in Dallas, Plano, Keller, Weatherford, and Fort Worth, Texas, Texas Orthopaedic Associates understands the importance of student athletics, especially in The Lone Star State, where sports play a big role in many families’ lives.

Our team is skilled in treating sports-related injuries in kids and teens. We’re also experienced in strategies that can help kids avoid injuries, including injuries due to overuse.

If you have a young athlete in your family, here’s how you can help them avoid overuse injuries, so they can continue to enjoy the activities they love.

Understanding overuse injuries

Overuse injuries are injuries that happen when a part of your body is subjected to the same physical strain over and over again. Over time, repetitive physical strain leads to tissue damage, and in kids, it can also lead to problems with growth and development.

Most overuse injuries occur because the body doesn’t have time to heal and recover. Without that important healing time, what started out as a tiny injury — for instance, a muscle strain or bruise — can wind up becoming much worse over time.

The good news is, because kids are growing, most overuse injuries heal well — as long as they have ample time to recover. Unfortunately, many young athletes are taught to “play through the pain” or to focus on one set of muscles — for instance, their “throwing arm” — during training, two approaches that increase the risk of injuries significantly.

Preventing overuse injuries

Overuse injuries can happen with any sport and at any level of athletic ability or expertise. Some of the most common overuse injuries involve injuries to the kneewrist, and elbow, three joints widely used in many types of sports.

Preventing overuse injuries starts with parents (and coaches, too). Here are some things you can do to help your child prevent these types of sports injuries.

Teach your child to listen to their body

Forget about playing through the pain. Pain is an indicator that your child’s body has sustained some type of injury or insult. If your child has any type of pain, it’s time to take a break from play, assess the pain, and decide if it needs to be medically evaluated or if some rest and TLC can help.

Take a day off

Build in at least one day off from sports each week. It’s fine for your child to play with friends or do other fun physical activities, but taking a day off gives your child a chance to recover physically and mentally from the strains of competition.

Avoid early specialization

Specializing in one or two sports might seem like a good strategy for helping your child be their best. But specialization — especially in young kids — can quickly lead to overworking muscles, tendons, ligaments, and even bones. This can result in an imbalance in your child’s development and lead to growth issues and injuries.

Instead, have your child cross-train in different sports so they can use all their muscle groups.

Keep it fun

Even if you or your child have dreams of making the big leagues some day, it’s important to keep things fun now to avoid burnout. If your child becomes bored with their sport, they’re also more likely to lose focus, increasing their risk of all sorts of injuries. Focus on keeping practice age-appropriate, with plenty of opportunities for fun and enjoyment built in.

Keep your student athlete healthy

Youth sports offer plenty of benefits for kids and teens, including reduced risks of depression and anxiety, better leadership and team-building skills, higher self-esteem, and better academic performance, too. But in order for your child to enjoy all those benefits, they have to be healthy enough to play.

If your child has a sports injury or if you just want to learn more ways to help them avoid injuries, book an appointment online or over the phone with the team at Texas Orthopaedic Associates and learn how we can help.