Overuse injuries in young athletes

Amy Bohl, LAT
Shin Splints

Participation in organized sports is on the rise and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 30 million children and adolescents in the United States participate in youth sports. Nearly half of all sports injuries in middle and high school students are due to overuse. Overuse injuries are more frequent in baseball, volleyball, cross country, soccer, and track and field.  According to the CDC, more than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable.

What is an overuse injury?

Overuse injuries usually develop over a period of time during which the body does not heal due to repetitive stress affecting the tendons, bones, muscles and joints.  Common overuse injuries include: little league elbow (medial epicondylitis), swimmer’s shoulder (rotator cuff tendinitis and/or impingement), shin splints, stress fractures, and patellar tendinitis.

Why do overuse injuries occur?

Overuse injuries can occur due to various reasons, which include improper technique, training errors, early specialization, inadequate rest, and/or muscle weakness and imbalances that can result in biomechanical issues.

How can overuse injuries be prevented?

  • Incorporate a proper warm-up and cool down routine to prepare your body for activity and to help it recover after.
  • Incorporate strength training and stretching into training programs.
  • Avoid playing one sport year-round.  Taking two-three months off from one sport each year allows the body to recover, and also helps the athlete avoid burnout and overtraining.
  • Avoid sport specialization at a young age and encourage children to participate in different sports throughout the year to reduce the risk of overuse injuries.  Athletes tend to have fewer injuries and play a sport longer if they participate in a variety of sports.
  • Pediatric athletes should only play one overhead throwing sport at a time. They should also avoid playing on multiple teams for the same sport during the same season.

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