The Numbers Are Impressive
The picture of youth sports in America is changing. Youth athletes often begin their competitive sports careers as early as age seven, with some youth participating in organized sports activities as early as age four, if not sooner. With an estimated 25 million scholastic, and another 20 million organized community-based youth programs in the United States, the opportunity for injury is enormous.
This is why sports injuries are the second leading cause of emergency room visits for children and adolescents, and the second leading cause of injuries in school. Approximately three million youth are seen in hospital emergency rooms for sports-related injuries and another five million youth are seen by their primary care physician or a sports medicine clinic for injuries. These numbers leave out the injuries not seen by a physician.
What Does This Mean?
Physical activity is necessary for normal growth in children. However, when the activity level becomes too intense or too excessive in a short time period, tissue breakdown and injury can occur. These overuse injuries were frequently seen in adult recreational athletes, but are now being seen in children. The single biggest factor contributing to the dramatic increase in overuse injuries in young athletes is the focus on more intense, repetitive and specialized training at much younger ages.
Overuse injuries such as stress fractures, tendinitis, bursitis, apophysitis and osteochondral injuries of the joint surface were rarely seen when children spent more time engaging in free play. The following risk factors predispose young athletes to overuse injuries:
- Sport specialization at a young age
- Imbalance of strength or joint range of motion
- Anatomic malalignment
- Improper footwear
- Pre-existing condition
- Growth cartilage less resistant to repetitive microtrauma
- Intense, repetitive training during periods of growth
What Should Be Done?
Early recognition and treatment of injuries is critical in returning athletes to their sport safely and quickly. Any injury that involves obvious swelling, deformity, and/or loss of normal function (i.e. movement or strength) should be seen by a physician immediately. All other injuries that appear to be minor should resolve themselves within a few days. However, if it does not heal on it's own, and your child is not back to full participation without pain, it is best to have him/her evaluated by a physician. Nagging injuries that go untreated can turn into chronic problems that require a much longer time away from the sport to allow the injury to heal properly.
If your child does get injured while playing sports, the best treatment plan is R.I.C.E:
- Do not use the injured area until seen for further evaluation by a physician
- If walking with a limp, have the athlete use crutches
- Apply ice to the injured area to help decrease pain and swelling
- Use ice 15 - 20 minutes at a time
- Crushed/cubed ice or frozen peas/corn works best, avoid using chemical cold packs
- Always ice for the first 48 - 72 hours after injury
- Never sleep with ice on the injured area
- Elastic wrap/compression sock should be used to reduce swelling
- Apply wrap beginning below the injured area and wrapping upward
- Always leave toes/fingers exposed
- Watch for numbness, discoloration or temperature changes (loosen wrap if needed)
- Do not sleep with wrap on the injured area
- Use gravity to control swelling
- Prop injured area higher than the heart
Consult your primary care physician for more serious injuries that do not respond to basic first aid. As an added resource, the staff at Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine is available to diagnose and treat sports-related injuries for youth or adolescent athletes. Services are now available in five locations. To make an appointment, call (614) 355-6000 or request an appointment online.