GIVING CHILDREN THE space to recover after sports play goes a long way toward protecting their maturing bodies from overuse injuries.
Children’s bones are still growing. That means growth plates—the areas of long bones where growth occurs—can complicate injuries that might occur playing sports that involve repetitive arm or leg use, says Jeffrey Reagan, M.D., orthopedic surgeon, Arizona Mountain Orthopedics, who is affiliated with Summit Healthcare Regional Medical Center.
“Young catchers and pitchers who play baseball continue to repeat the same throwing motions game after game, setting themselves up for overuse injuries of the elbow, since growth plates here are not completely fused to the larger part of the bone,” Dr. Reagan says.
A young runner might experience hamstring overuse from using the same muscles to run set distances for competitive races, he adds.
SIGNS OF OVERUSE
When an injury occurs along a growth plate, the life of the bone is at stake. To protect these areas of bone growth, any indication of injury should be taken seriously.
Overuse injuries are not acute—they happen slowly.
“To spot an injury as it develops, look for how young athletes may be overcompensating by changing their throwing or running form or complaining of pain with physical activity,” Dr. Reagan says. “Swelling is another indication that something is wrong.”
Coach your child to be his or her own advocate as well, so everyone can be on the lookout. If any of the above symptoms appear, seek medical attention immediately.
TIME OUT FOR HEALING
“The doctor may say your child needs to take a break from sports for a time as growth-related issues resolve,” Dr. Reagan says. “If that’s the case, rest assured there may be nothing pathologically wrong. Your child may just be performing at a high level at a time when his or her muscles and tendons are trying to catch up with growing bones.”
Many sports organizations have rules and regulations in place to protect young athletes from overuse. Parents should encourage children to learn proper techniques, stretch appropriately, find a sport they are passionate about, and enjoy the off-season recovering—not playing another sport.