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Five Tips to Lower Your Child's Risk for Overuse Injuries

By: Deborah Fischi, ATC

A growing trend to specialize in one sport is leading young athletes to develop overuse injuries. Many parents mistakenly believe that if their child specializes in just one sport, it will give them an advantage over others. The goal is often to have the child participate at an elite level within their sport, receive college scholarships, or someday become a professional athlete. In an attempt to attain these goals, the athlete will play one sport, year-round, with very little, if any, downtime between seasons.

Research shows that specializing in a specific sport at a young age does not increase an athlete’s chances to reach an elite level. In fact, it often leads to career-ending overuse injuries instead.

Young athletes are still growing and developing. Repetitive movements and not enough recovery time can lead to muscle fatigue, joint strain, and increased stress on open growth plates. These factors all make the athlete more susceptible to injury. When fatigue and minor injuries occur and athletes continue to try to perform at the same level, their bodies may compensate, losing proper form, which puts them at risk for more severe injury.

While some sports organizations have implemented rules such as limits on practice hours and pitch counts for baseball, it’s important for parents to take additional steps.

As a parent, it is up to you to protect your young athlete. Follow these five tips to lower your child’s risk for overuse injuries:

  • Listen to your child. Don’t ignore any complaints of pain. It’s always better to have something checked out than to let an undetected injury get worse.
  • Monitor practice time. A good rule of thumb is to limit the number of weekly hours participating in a sport to match a child’s age. This is especially important for younger athletes. For example, a 10-year-old should be limited to approximately 10 hours a week.
  • Take time off. Athletes should rest one or two days per week in addition to taking two to three months off throughout the year from their specific sport. During that time, your child should remain physically active, but vary their activities.
  • Play one sport at a time. Resist the urge to let your child play two sports at the same time. If they participate in a school sport while maintaining practices and games for a travel team, it can be too much stress on their body.
  • Play a different sport in the offseason. Playing different sports is beneficial as it activates new muscles while giving others a much-needed rest. However, this strategy only works when a child plays only one sport per season.

Ultimately, it is the health and well-being of our children that should be our focus. As an athletic trainer, I firmly believe that slowing down a bit, and letting kids be kids, is a good thing. Because sports participation offers many benefits, including fitness, staying active, following directions, teamwork, making new friends, and discipline, it is important to prevent injuries that could end their ability to participate.

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About CHKD Sports Medicine

About CHKD Sports Medicine  CHKD's sports medicine program offers the most comprehensive care for your young athlete. From diagnosis and treatment to customized rehabilitation plans, we specialize in physical therapy and injury prevention programs for active children and teens. Our team is composed of pediatric orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine specialists, physician assistants, certified athletic trainers and pediatric sports medicine physical therapists.