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Helping Young Athletes Avoid Injury

Helping young athletes avoid injury


The epidemic of overuse injuries 

Kids’ bodies are resilient.

He loves to play!

If she wants a scholarship, she needs to play year-round.

We tell ourselves a lot of things when we push our kids — or allow them to push themselves — in sports. “There’s such a drive among young athletes to be the best in their sport. They play on multiple teams year-round to perfect their skills in a single sport,” says Heidi Christensen, MD, a primary care sports medicine physician with Centura Health Sports Medicine. “But it’s doing more harm than anyone expected.”

“The biggest long-term risk is damage to a child’s growth plate,” explains Mark Christensen, MD, also a primary care sports medicine physician who practices with his wife at Centura Health Sports Medicine. “The growth plate is an issue with any kid who’s not done growing.”

          That’s because the growth plate is particularly vulnerable, and serious damage could affect the bones’ ability to grow.

Once a child reaches the late stages of puberty, other types of overuse injuries are common. For example, a baseball pitcher who doesn’t get adequate rest is at risk of damaging tendons and ligaments in the shoulder and elbow. Basketball, football, and soccer players have increased risk of knee injury, while hip injuries are more common in sprinters and hurdlers.


A 2014 American Medical Society for Sports Medicine report noted that overuse injuries comprise half of sports injuries in teens and adolescents.


Rest Reduces Risk

The answer to overuse injuries is simple, says Dr. Heidi Christensen: rest and cross-training to reduce risk of injury and improve overall performance.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises not playing a single sport more than five days a week — with at least one day off from anyorganized sport. They also advocate playing on just one team per season and taking two to three months a year off from their particular sport.


Signs of overuse injury

  • Pain that typically increases with activity
  • Swelling
  • Changes in form or technique


Strength training for kids

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), kids who strength train not only get stronger, but also may see:

• Improved athletic performance

• Lower risk of injury

• Increased bone density

• Improved mental well-being

          The AAP advises not starting a strength program until at least age 7 or 8 — after a child’s balance and postural control skills have matured. Perhaps the most important thing is form: If a youngster can’t perform the exercise correctly using only her body weight, don’t let her add weight.