With students returning to organized sports this fall, we speak with Dr. Brian Domby, Tampa orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist, about the risk for kids sports injury that children face from specializing in one sport and ignoring the body’s signals that it’s time to rest.
In your profession, what do you see as far as injuries involving kids who play sports?
We see everything from acute injuries to ACL tears and ankle sprains and fractures. And then a lot of overuse injuries. Overuse shoulder, knee, ankle or elbow injuries are the most common.
What kind of sports can cause overuse injuries?
Really anything that’s repetitive, any repetitive exercise and persistent use of a joint can increase the risk of an overuse injury, and kids are particularly prone to that because they’re growing. They have open growth plates, and the growth plates are at higher risk to develop stress.
How do you know what’s too much?
It’s a hard balance. It’s too much if a kid is starting to have pain. Typically overtraining occurs with one sport. Year-round sports are generally too much if there’s no rest period. Early specialization in a sport –being a one-sport athlete– can increase the risk of overuse. Cross-training and playing other sports is helpful to decrease risk of overuse injuries.
What is the consequence of an overuse injury?
If caught early, there are generally no long-term problems with an overuse kids sports injury. It just needs to be treated with rest. If overuse injuries go on continuously, then they can start to cause damage to the growth plate, which can affect growth.
By what age would you say do you not have to worry about the growth plates anymore?
I would say most males are skeletally mature by 16 and most females around the age of 13, but there is some variability in that. Overuse injuries are still a problem even after they’re done growing, though. We just see more problems with tendonitis and ligament overuse injuries as the growth plates close, so overuse is a problem really at any age. The affected area tends to change as you become skeletally mature.
When parents come in with kids who have overuse injuries, do you find that they’re surprised?
Yes, sometimes it can be challenging for them to understand the importance of rest and that taking time away from a certain sport is very beneficial to let the area recover.
What do you wish parents knew that many don’t?
Kids can overtrain and do things too frequently that can cause pain and can potentially cause problems.
Recommendations for Preventing Overuse Injuries
Source: National Athletic Trainers’ Association (atyourownrisk.org)
- Delay specializing in a single sport as long as possible.
- Play on one team at a time.
- Participate in a single sport for less than eight months per year.
- Curb hours of participation per week to no more than age in years (e.g.: a 12-year-old athlete should not participate in more than 12 hours per week of organized sport).
- Allow for two days of rest per week.
- Engage in rest and recovery time from organized sport participation during the year.
Originally Published in the November 2021 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.