“No pain, no gain.”
This slogan has found its way into many locker rooms, weight rooms and gyms. Unfortunately, this philosophy can cause problems for any athlete, especially kids.
Some stiffness or soreness after a hard workout may be nothing to worry about, but pain is often our body’s way of letting us know that we are doing something wrong — either doing too much or doing things incorrectly. If your kids don’t listen to their bodies and make a change to their training, overuse injuries can occur.
An overuse injury is an injury to a bone or muscle that develops over time as the tissue undergoes repetitive stress and is not given enough time to heal and recover. Growing tissue in children and adolescents makes them susceptible to overuse injuries, and they can develop specific injuries not seen in adults with fully mature bodies. In fact, about half of all sports injuries in young athletes are from overuse.
If your young athlete complains of pain, it is something that should be taken seriously. One thing to consider and discuss with your child is whether their complaint of pain is from a developing injury or whether it is a sign of overtraining. Sometimes vague aches and pains may be an indication that an athlete is no longer enjoying participation in their sport.
While it is important that children and adolescents fulfill their commitment to their team, allowing them to move on or try different sports is essential to prevent burnout. As children grow and move up to more competitive sports situations, it is common for them to feel somewhat upset or frustrated if they are no longer the star. It is important to remind them that they are still an essential contributor to their team and to praise them for their hard work and efforts to be a good teammate, as well as for their achievements on the field or in competition.
When aches and pains are the result of an injury, treatment is important. Many times the sooner an overuse injury is addressed, the quicker the recovery. Treatment usually requires some type of rest or modification in training to allow for tissue healing. It is also crucial to address the cause of the injury by fixing problems with biomechanics or technique so that the injury does not reoccur when your child returns to their full training and competition.
There are many things parents and coaches can do to help prevent overuse injuries. All athletes should have at least one to two days off per week to allow time for recovery. Increases in training should be done slowly. Time spent, distance covered or intensity should not increase by more than 10 percent each week. For example, if a team runs for 10 miles throughout the week in practice, they should not increase to more than 11 miles the next week. Children preparing to return to fall sports after taking the summer off may need to begin some training or conditioning on their own to be ready and in shape by the time practices start.
It is also important to take two to three months away from a specific sport throughout the year. During this time, athletes can stay involved in another sport or continue a different type of exercise. This allows for development of broader strengths and skill sets. Additionally, many studies have shown that college level and elite athletes were more likely to have been involved in multiple sports or to have begun intense training in one specific sport at a later age.
Most importantly, the focus in youth sports should be on having fun, developing skills, participating safely and learning good sportsmanship and teamwork. While injuries are inevitable, we still need to ensure that our kids are enjoying their participation in their chosen sports.
Depending on the demands of their sports, overuse injuries can occur all over the body, including shoulder, elbows, back, knees and legs. When your young athlete has consistent complaints about an ache or pain, or if they have any pain affecting their participation in activities, these can be signs of an injury. Also, any injury associated with swelling or a change in form or technique should be evaluated.
If you suspect your child is suffering from an overuse injury, contact your pediatrician or a sports medicine physician at UHealth at 305-243-3000.
Carolyn Kienstra, M.D., is a pediatric sports medicine physician at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.