Does your child play one sport?
Know the risks
These days many of the kids’ sporting associations, coaches, and sometimes even parents seem to be treating kids as little adults. However, kids are not just small grownups. Children are still growing, which makes them more prone to injury. They are also developing their strength, coordination and endurance as they grow. Kids participating in sports together, even though they may be the same age, vary in size as well as physical and psychosocial maturity.
Recently, there has been an increasing trend in younger children specializing in one sport. Specialization prior to adolescence can cause increased injury rates, early burn out on the sport and unwanted psychological stress for the athlete.
Counter to current trends, studies have shown that athletes at the elite level were more likely to start competing at a later age and compete in other sports until late adolescence. Research also supports that children who participate in a variety of activities and don’t specialize until reaching puberty are more likely to be more consistent in their performance.
Participating in a variety of sports helps with coordination, skill development, and gives the child a chance to rotate use of specific muscles to decrease the risk of overuse injuries.
It’s important for athletes, parents and coaches to be aware of the signs and symptoms of an overuse injury. These can include:
- Changes in form
- Decline in performance
- Weight loss
- Sleep disturbances.
Children also have the added risk of injuring their growth plates. What may cause a sprained ankle in an adult has the potential to fracture a growth plate in a child. These injuries have the possibility to disturb growth of the injured bone and cause deformity. A young athlete should never attempt to “push through” an injury. Too much stress on the bones or muscles can lead to tissue breakdown and further injury.
To prevent these injuries, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American Academy of Orthopeadic Surgeons (AAOS) recommend:
- The athlete should be coached by properly trained people who are knowledgeable about proper form and technique.
- Athletes should only participate at a level consistent with their abilities and interest levels.
- It is important that the athlete is participating in activities they enjoy. The athlete’s desires should control their intensity of participation.
- Athletes should not play one sport or type of sport (i.e. throwing) year round.
Young athletes should be followed by a health care team who can monitor the athlete’s body composition, cardiovascular system, sexual maturation and evidence of emotional stress. It’s recommended that children participating in high levels of activities have an ongoing nutritional assessment to look at total calories, balanced diet and intake of calcium and iron to ensure adequate intake for growth.
If at any time your young athlete is having pain or any of the symptoms above, please seek appropriate medical attention.
About the author
Amanda Stukey, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist for the SPORTS program at Cook Children's. Our physicians, therapists, nurses and technologists work exclusively with kids and understand the unique needs of a growing athlete's bones, muscles, body and mind.