Health & Fitness

Playing with pain: Injuries to youth athletes are on the rise

Carly Duncan, 17, a member of the Miami Premier Soccer Club, exercises as part of her physical therapy for an ankle injury. Lauren Butler, a doctor of physical therapy at Nicklaus Children's Hospital, directs her on Sept. 10, 2015, in the Sports Medicine Department at the Nicklaus Children's Hospital West Kendall Outpatient Center.
Carly Duncan, 17, a member of the Miami Premier Soccer Club, exercises as part of her physical therapy for an ankle injury. Lauren Butler, a doctor of physical therapy at Nicklaus Children's Hospital, directs her on Sept. 10, 2015, in the Sports Medicine Department at the Nicklaus Children's Hospital West Kendall Outpatient Center. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

Carly Duncan has been playing soccer since she was 3. Until two years ago, the high school senior played for Terra Environmental High School and played on the Miami Premier Soccer Club, a top-ranked travel team.

Her burgeoning sports career came to a screeching halt in September 2013 while playing in a soccer tournament in Orlando. In the last game, she sprained her ankle, suffering a hairline fracture. Since then, Carly has sprained her ankle six more times, sidelining her from the game.

Duncan, 17, is one of a growing number of injured youth athletes. Indeed, high school athletes alone account for an estimated 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 3.5 million kids under age 14 receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year. And 90 percent of youth athletes say they have been injured while playing a sport — concussions/head injuries, 12 percent; dehydration, 24 percent; broken/fractured bones, 13 percent; sprains/strains, 37 percent, according to an August 2014 report from SafeKids Worldwide.

But there are several ways to prevent injuries in student-athletes, trainers say.

For one, cross-training in other sports allows an athlete to perform better, said Dr. Craig Spurdle, pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.

“An athlete shouldn’t use one sport for training because it can result in an overuse of injuries [from repetitive activities] in that sport,’’ Spurdle said.

The risk is greater in South Florida, where sports can be played year-round. An athlete should play a sport for only one season a year to cut back on injuries, some sports medicine doctors say, citing how youth athletes who play in Northern states have fewer injuries. Playing a sport year-round can also damage growth plates in adolescents.

“An athlete needs proper rest during the year,” Spurdle said.

2million injuries among U.S. high-school athletes

Dr. Roger Saldana, pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute at Baptist Children’s Hospital, disagreed.

“Children can play year-round depending on the child, training and preparation,” Saldana said.

Children can also avoid injuries by learning good mechanics of the sport and developing goals that are age appropriate for players, said Dr. Carolyn Kienstra, a pediatrician at UHealth – University of Miami Health System who practices at Holtz Children’s Hospital.

“Don’t expect a 10-year-old to play like a high school senior,” Kienstra said.

Student-athletes should also eat healthy foods and drink plenty of fluids, not just during the game but every day, and particularly the day before a game, Kienstra said.

There are no guidelines for the time an athlete should train, Spurdle said. That is determined by the level of training, the type of sport and the guidance from a trainer.

“A ballet dancer may train eight hours a day whereas a baseball player may train only an hour a day,” Spurdle said.

And a child can have an injury in any sport, whether from overuse or an acute injury from bruises or falls.

In April 2015, Duncan underwent surgery for ligament reconstruction in her ankle because her injury was severe enough that it didn’t respond to physical therapy.

“Surgery is a rare circumstance,” Spurdle said. “It usually occurs after multiple injuries of the ankles.”

Duncan doesn’t plan to play college soccer, although she said she would like to play intramural soccer. She hopes to attend Florida State University.

In the meantime, she looks forward to playing with her soccer club teammates in about a month. She hasn’t played in two years.

“We were all like sisters,” Duncan said. “It was fun. I played so long, it became a part of my life.”

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