With spring sports season here, parents have stepped up to the plate and pitched lots of questions in my direction. They want to know whether their young athlete could injure themselves from too much practicing, resulting in an overuse injury.

What is on overuse injury?

An overuse injury is an injury that causes damage to a bone, muscle, ligament or tendon. This happens due to the repetitive stress to these body parts without allowing these parts to heal.

Overuse injuries result in pain in an affected area after physical activity. When that pain restricts performance and persist even at rest, it can mean a serious level of injury. It can also indicate emotional burnout for practicing and playing the sport so much.

In fact, half of all sports medicine injuries in children and teens are due to overuse. Common overuse injuries include shin splints in runners or little league elbow in young pitchers.

Why are these injuries so common in children?

Growing bones, muscles, and ligaments are less resilient to stress and will become damaged more easily. The name of the game is to prevent an overuse injury from happening before one occurs. How can you do this?

First, all young athletes should have a physical exam before they begin training for a sport. Six weeks or so before the start of the season is a good time for an exam. This will make sure no special exercises are necessary to reduce the risk of overuse.

When practicing, children should perform proper warm-up and cool down exercises. Focusing on one sport for an entire year should not occur before late adolescence. This will reduce the risk of overuse in children and younger teens. Practices and games should be limited to five days a week. Make sure that children get at least one day off per week from organized activity to recover physically.

What if your child is in pain from playing sports? Take them to their health care professional or a sports medicine specialist. That provider can make sure a stress fracture has not occurred as a complication of overuse.

Physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and a medical professional’s supervision can reduce the severity and duration of an overuse injury.

Hopefully tips like these will be useful again and again when it comes to avoiding overuse injuries and their complications.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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