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Overuse Injuries In Children: What Can Parents Do To Prevent Them?

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Stress is very important for athletes, as the stress placed on bones, joints, and muscles through training helps to strengthen them. Unfortunately, the body needs to be given adequate time to heal after playing sports or training for them. Without enough time to heal, overuse injuries will result. Bones, connective tissue, and muscle can become inflamed and painful instead of becoming stronger.

Children can suffer from overuse injuries as well, and those types of injuries are particularly common in children who are playing a single sport year-round in order to train to become an elite athlete. It's important for young athletes to prevent overuse injuries, especially because they require rest in order to heal. While resting, athletes won't be able to train, which can interfere with training goals. If you're a parent whose child plays sports, read on for more information about preventing overuse injuries in children.

Why Are Children Prone to Overuse Injuries?

One reason that children are prone to overuse injuries is due to physiology. Children are still growing, so the growth plates in their bones are still open. The growth plates close later in adulthood, once growth is finished. The new bone growth that emerges from the growth plates is typically not as strong and is more prone to injury than existing bone. Training too hard can cause stress fractures in the new growth, or it can even cause the growth plates themselves to become inflamed.

Additionally, it's often assumed that children recover more quickly after training than adults do. This can cause coaches and trainers to push children harder than necessary or to ignore complains about pain. However, children are just as susceptible to damaging their bones, muscles, and ligaments from overuse as adults are. Complaints of chronic pain need to be taken seriously.

How Can Overuse Injuries in Children Be Prevented?

The best way to prevent overuse injury in children is to avoid playing and training for the same sport year-round. Parents who want to support their child's dream to become an elite athlete sometimes sign them up for multiple leagues, special training camps, or statewide clubs in order for the child to have as much playing and training time as possible. Unfortunately, this is counterproductive—when a child is playing and training year-round, bones and connective tissue are not given adequate time to heal. Overtraining will lead to overuse injuries.

Children should cross-train instead of focusing on a single sport. For example, a child who plays baseball as his or her primary sport should take at least a few months off each year in order to try another sport such as swimming or basketball. Focusing on different sports throughout the year helps to avoid placing excess stress on any single joint or muscle group, which gives the body time to heal.

What Are the Symptoms of an Overuse Injury in Children?

Overuse injuries typically start as pain and inflammation after training or playing sports. Unless an overuse injury is treated by a sports medicine physician and given time to rest, it will get worse. Eventually, the overuse injury can cause severe pain while playing sports, and at some point, it can progress to causing chronic pain constantly throughout the day. The affected area may also appear swollen or flushed due to inflammation.

What Should You Do if You Suspect That Your Child Has an Overuse Injury?

If your child complains about pain during or after play, it's important to schedule an appointment with a clinic that provides sports medicine services. A sports medicine specialist will evaluate your child and take diagnostic images in order to determine the source of his or her pain.

If a sports medicine physician diagnoses your child with an overuse injury, your child will have to take a break from playing sports until the injury has healed. They will also probably be given physical therapy exercises that should aid in the process of healing. These exercises can also help to prevent deconditioning, which means your child can return more quickly to their usual level of play once the injury has healed. Failing to treat an overuse injury or playing through the pain will only make it worse, so schedule an appointment at a sports medicine clinic right away if you suspect your child is suffering from an overuse injury.