By Sue Hubbard, M.D., Tribune Media Services
8:30 PM EDT, July 25, 2012
More and more kids seem to be participating in organized sports at ever younger ages. I know many 3-year-olds already playing on soccer teams, and kindergartners involved in football and lacrosse. Also, children are specializing in specific sports at younger ages, increasing the risk of overuse injuries.
This specialization seems to be more common among children who participate in dance, soccer, gymnastics and tennis.
While I've been noticing more and more overuse injuries in young children, a sports medicine study supports this. A report from the sports medicine department at Loyola University School of Medicine found that "kids are twice as likely to get hurt if they play just one sport than those who play multiple sports."
It seems those children who participate in multiple sports are actually "cross-training" and using different muscle groups and different movements. The children playing just one sport are typically playing or competing for about 10 hours a week (more than those in multiple sports) which requires repetitive use of the same muscle groups.
Added to this repetition is the stress that's incurred to a growing body. Children ages 8 to 16 are still in the throes of major developmental changes and growth spurts and are more vulnerable to injury. Their bodies are just not ready to perform at this level every day, year round. They have so little down time that their bodies just tire out and overuse injuries occur. This is often manifested in stress fractures in the back, feet and lower legs, as well as tennis elbow and knee problems, just to name a few. I've seen stress injuries in almost every area of the body.
The mainstay of treatment for overuse injuries is rest. But there are children as young as 9 to 10 in my practice who become anxious and guilt ridden when told that they may not participate (in whatever sport that got them to this place) for 4 to 6 weeks so the body can heal itself. You can't rush rest, and the body is in fact a temple that needs time to repair, especially in pre-pubescent children.
It would seem that parents should encourage their children to play/experiment with many different activities during their formative years in hopes that injuries will be fewer and their bodies will have time to grow before specializing in a sport. By high school, the body has matured and there's less risk to growth plates, while there's still plenty of time to become a single-sport jock if they so desire.
Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show.
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