Research presented at the Academy of Orthopeadic Surgeons Annual Meeting showed that the total hours a child or adolescent participates in sports per week plays a big role in overuse injuries. The type of sport and child’s gender are also factors. Because there are guidelines, but no regulations, when it comes to youth sports the orthopedic physicians who are credentialed at Advanced Surgical Hospital try to educate parents and coaches before young athletes get injured.
Young athletes are specializing in a single sport earlier than ever before. The belief is that more hours focused on one sport will make them a better athlete. However, research shows that putting more hours into a sport at a young age may lead to burnout and overuse injuries. Single-sport specialization may cause acute and overuse injuries. This is due to the “repetitive microtrauma” of joints and muscles over time.
On the contrary, by participating in multiple sports at a young age, athletes cross-train and stretch different muscles and joints. This occurs when young athletes perform varied balancing and coordination skills, build core stability and do overall conditioning exercises.
Another safety consideration is hours at play. A good rule of thumb for young athletes to follow is to do no more hours of vigorous sports activity than the child’s age. So, for example, if a child is 12 years old, they should not be doing more than 12 hours of vigorous sports activity per week.
And, although it may not be noticeable until puberty, due to anatomic and hormonal differences, girls have higher overuse injury rates than boys. To combat muscle fatigue injuries, boys and girls both benefit by participating in strength and conditioning programs to help with core stability. Proper mechanics – strength, balance and control in the kinetic chain (core, legs and back) may help reduce shoulders and elbows injuries.
While there are guidelines in place to prevent overuse injuries for pitchers in baseball for example, other sports like swimming, gymnastics and track don’t have such guidelines because it’s not known how much is too much. In addition to rest and proper nutrition, time should be a consideration for your young athletes.