There is an excitement that comes from cultivating a love of athletics within a child, but sometimes that cultivation can lead to injuries. Far from simply building character, orthopedic doctors warn that over-exertion can lead to serious injury in child athletes. They emphasize that the care does not end with the surgery or therapy, but includes the relationship between the caregivers and the child.
This is because, as the famed Dr. James Andrews told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, there has been a sharp increase in sports injuries among children in the last decade. The blame for this increase lies with many people, but orthopedic doctors across the nation tend to agree on two main factors affecting this increase of adult-grade sports injuries in children.
Parents want the most for their children. As they begin to see the seeds of greatness in them-a fondness for a sport, for example-they are enticed to provide support. For athletics, this comes in the form of long hours of training. But, as Andrews told the Plain Dealer, children simply cannot handle the same level training as their adult counterparts.
Parents, however, will find no shortage of for-hire coaches, offering after-hours training for children as young as 12, or sometimes younger. These coaches often specialize in the sport itself, with no background in the careful consideration that must be made for young bodies. The increased competition to earn sports scholarships or a career in sports, combined with the dearth of knowledge on child athlete physiology, is a dangerous formula for injury.
Exacerbating this problem is the availability of year-round playing opportunities. When parents enroll their child in leagues throughout the year, they deprive children of a necessary resting period needed to avoid injuries from the repetition of specific movements.
Orthopedic surgeons also see a troubling trend of acute training regimens in young children. Simply put, children are having their exercise regimens increased at a rate that works for adult athletes, but is guaranteed to result in injury for developing bodies. The reasoning is clear-coaches and parents see the competitive advantage to “bulking up,” then simply use their own knowledge of training and apply it to children.
What Parents and Coaches Can Do
There is nothing wrong with children training for a sport and, for a portion of the year, playing that sport. However, parents and coaches need to understand the limitations of a developing body.
First, orthopedic doctors recommend training regimens adhere to a 10-percent-per-week limit. That means that if a child is running for 10 minutes a day, three days per week, he or she should only be running for 11 minutes per day, three days per week the next week. Rapid increases in load and intensity will result in injury.
Second, students need to have a rest period between sports.
A growing trend has parents enrolling their children into a sport of choice through most of the year; this increases the chances for repetition injuries, as the same motions are conducted consistently without a multi-month rest period. Recent studies of baseball pitchers between the ages of 16 and 20 who experienced a major injury showed that those who pitched over 8 months out of the year significantly increased the risk of injury.
Finally, coaches and parents need to learn to listen to children and monitor their aches and pains closely. Some orthopedic doctors have said that trainers and parents will often attribute to “growing pains” injuries that are much more serious. This mistake can be the difference between sore muscles and a missed game, and a torn ACL and months of recovery.