Over the last three decades, the intensity of children’s sports has changed. In the Front Range, whole catalogs are devoted to sports camps. Club sports are proliferating and, in a community where physical activity is highly valued, competition to excel is huge. Parents are hiring personal coaches and trainers to help their children in the off-season. As a result, children are training year round for their particular sport.
Early specialization combined with year-round training has led to an increase in overuse injuries in children. 30-50% of all pediatric sports injuries are from overuse, and overuse injuries sideline children longer than acute injuries according to the Journal of Sports Medicine and Fitness.
Repeating the same motions over and over causes a specific tissue, such as a tendon or bone, to fatigue. With rest, the tissue recovers, adapts to the demand, and is able to withstand more load without injury. Without rest, inflamedstructures release enzymes that damage local tissue and can cause lasting degenerative changes.
Children Are Not Small Adults
An untrained person might be alarmed when seeing a child’s x-ray for the first time. Picture an arm bone in several pieces, with large gaps between the segments of bone. Those gaps are actually pieces of growth cartilage that don’t show up on X-ray. As a child matures, bones grow longer, replacing this cartilage. While children grow, their immature musculoskeletal systems deserve special consideration. Here’s why:
Cartilage is more fragile than bone, and more susceptible to injury. In addition, with a growth spurt, bones may lengthen faster than surrounding muscles and tendons, causing muscle tightness and extra stress where the tendons attach to the bone. And, if some muscles are tighter than others, the muscle imbalances increase the likelihood of injury.
Not only is an immature skeleton more fragile, but the muscles designed to support it are weaker. Before puberty, children lack hormones necessary to increase muscle strength significantly.
So how do you find that perfect balance between healthy competition in sports, developing a life long enjoyment of exercise, and avoiding injuries? A great physical therapist can make all the difference. Before injuries occur, schedule an evaluation to rule out any alignment problems that may predispose your athlete to problems.
If your child complains of pain, pay attention. Find a therapist who can evaluate the problem and gently correct imbalances in the joints, muscles and tendons to get your child safely back to his/her game. A good P.T. will evaluate technique and look at footwear and equipment to ensure that an injury doesn’t recur. Physical therapists also work with coaches and trainers to make the transition back to activity as speedy and safe as possible.
Creating balance in all aspects of your life is important. Helping your child understand the value of having balance between activity and rest can make a huge difference in his or her health.