As the number of children and teen athletes grows, so does the number of injuries that happen because of sports. In all sports, injuries can and will happen, and this is especially true for kids. But the kinds of injuries children get are different from those adults get.
Children are not just little adults. Different bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments can cause different kinds of injuries that need different kinds of care.
Overuse and subsequent wear
In general, more boys than girls play sports. Because of this, young men are more likely to get hurt than young women. The most common injuries are sprains and strains, then breaks and dislocations.
Most of the time, we think that sports injuries are caused by direct trauma, like a hard tackle, a fall, or a bad landing. However, research shows that up to 50% of injuries in child athletes are caused by overuse. More and more kids play sports all year long, without taking breaks for the seasons. This lets their bodies get the rest and repair they need.
This happens even more often with competitive athletes who feel pressure from themselves, their peers, overzealous parents, or overly competitive coaches. Several studies have found that boys who specialize in one sport are more likely to get hurt than boys who don’t. Due to the risk of overuse injuries, kids who only play one sport are twice as likely to get hurt as kids who play more than one sport.
Early specialization is a worldwide cultural trend that is partly caused by the rise of professionalism in almost all sports. Icons like Tiger Woods, Andre Agassi, Yao Ming, Rory McIlroy, Lionel Messi, and the Williams sisters all show the same thing: a very talented child becomes the youngest and highest-paid star in their sport.
What we don’t hear about are the many other kids who were just as good at a young age but were pushed too hard or too quickly by parents and coaches who wanted to find “the next big star” and ended up losing interest, getting hurt, or getting burned out.
Differences between how children and adults get hurt
Both young athletes and their parents and coaches don’t know enough about overuse and don’t understand what it means. Overuse injuries happen when the same muscle groups are used over and over again, or when joints and bones are stressed over and over again, especially when a person is still growing.
If a child hits, throws, or kicks 500 balls a day or swims or runs 10 km a day, they are putting more work into some muscle groups than others. This might not be a problem for an adult’s skeleton or physiology, but a growing skeleton will not do as well, and the child’s development will be hampered by muscle groups that are overused.
It’s important to know that the bodies of children and adults are different in the following ways:
- •A child’s bones grow more quickly than his or her muscles and tendons. Because these muscles are shorter and less flexible, they are more likely to get hurt if they are stressed over and over again during a “growth spurt.”
- Adults may not realise how bad common childhood injuries like a twisted ankle are because ligaments are stronger than the bones they connect to.
- Children have growth plates in their bones that can break or crack. If growth problems aren’t taken care of properly, they can lead to improper healing.
Lower back: Stress fractures in the lumbar vertebrae are common in people who play cricket, bowl fast, or jump high. These cause pain in the low back.
Knee: Children between the ages of 12 and 13 are most likely to get Osgood Schlatter disease. This disease makes the knee hurt and often causes a bony bump to form on top of the shinbone. Sinding Larsson Johanssen syndrome causes pain at the lower tip of the kneecap. It is most common in boys ages 11 to 13. (patella).
Shin: Shin splints can happen inside or outside of the shin and cause dull or throbbing pain during or after activity.
Ankle heel: Sever’s disease is a condition that affects 11- and 12-year-olds. It causes pain under and around the heel, especially when the person is active or afterward. Little League Shoulder pain is usually vague and happens most often in kids who play throwing sports over and over again.
Shoulder instability can cause pain and discomfort and make the shoulder weaker and less able to do its job.
Elbow: Little League Elbow is a term for the injuries that kids between the ages of 12 and 16 get inside the elbow when they play throwing sports. Osteochondritis dissecans mostly affects the elbow and knee. It causes joint pain that is hard to pinpoint, and it can cause swelling, entrapment, lameness, or a decrease in the ability to throw. Most growth plate fractures happen in the upper and lower extremities, and they are usually caused by something that hurts.
Problems that need to be fixed:
- A new injury to the same part of the body. Very few people have naturally weak left ankles or right knees. Instead, these problems come from not taking care of the injury well after it happens.
- Muscle or joint pain, swelling, or inability to move: Any symptom that lasts more than two to three days after an injury or lasts without an obvious injury should be looked into.
- A child with a growth spurt who is active and has pain.
- A child who is very active can change who they are.
- A child who is very active did not do as well in school.
- Nighttime pain, fever, and losing weight.
What can you do?
Many sports injuries can be avoided if you train and warm up the right way. To keep kids from getting hurt from overuse or exhaustion, it’s important to set limits on how much and what kind of training they can do.
When young athletes get hurt, parents and coaches should be extra careful about how they handle it. Be careful, look for warning signs, and get your child to the best doctor as soon as possible to avoid complications from injuries that could make it hard for them to have fun or play sports.
Load management is the main thing that can be done to help young athletes who keep getting hurt. Once the initial injury has been taken care of with the right rehab and exercise, special attention should be paid to the child’s injury prevention program, proper strength and conditioning, and most importantly, making sure that each child’s training and play loads are manageable.