Overuse Injuries in Young Athletes

youth athlete football
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It’s that time of year again when youth athletes are either pushing themselves through the end of one sport season or ramping up for the next. While many kids handle this transition well, it is estimated that up to 40 percent of youth athletes suffer from pain or reduced performance due to overuse injuries. 

What is an overuse injury?

An overuse injury can be described as an injury that occurs when repetitive stress to a tissue in the body such as a ligament, tendon, bone, or joint surpasses the body’s ability to recover over an extended period of time. This differs from an acute injury in which a tissue of the body is exposed to a significant stressor that overloads the tissue in an instant causing injury.  

Though different, the two can be connected — one of the main reasons significant acute injuries occur is due to underlying repetitive stress (overuse) injuries that are ignored and leave the body vulnerable.

What causes overuse injuries?

Overuse injuries can present for various reasons.  

  • Repetitive loading of the body in a manner that fatigues tissues beyond their ability to recover in between practice, games, or training sessions is one of the most common explanations for overuse injuries.  
  • Another cause of overuse injury includes poor technique, form, and/or body mechanics with repetitive motions such as running, jumping, throwing, kicking and swinging.  
  • Finally, a lack of exposure to various movements and activities that load and develop supporting tissues that assist with our larger movements often leads to overuse injuries, especially in young athletes due in large part to their growing bodies. 

Signs and Symptoms of an Overuse Injury

young basketball player holds her shoulder in pain

How to prevent overuse injuries in youth athletes.

The first step in reducing the likelihood of an overuse injury is to be sure your child listens to their body. An occasional ache here and there is normal, but if you notice that discomfort is occurring regularly and in the same spot it could be an indicator of an overuse injury. In this case, it would be best to modify the athlete’s activity level. This can be as simple as taking a break from the activity that causes their symptoms for a few days. Monitor how their body responds. Mid-season, it can be challenging to stop participation completely, but at a minimum, your young athlete should reduce the intensity and duration of their practices and competitions. 

It is also important for athletes of all ages to regularly vary their training routines to avoid continuously exposing the same tissues to repetitive stress. Rather than focus on one sport at a time, or all the time, it’s important to cross-train.  

Essentially, the goal of cross-training is to find alternative ways to stay active while allowing adequate time for the body to recover from the stressors we are regularly exposed to with sports training or competition. It also helps athletes reduce or reverse imbalances in strength and flexibility.  

How to treat overuse injuries in young athletes.

If rest and/or activity modification along with cross-training are not quite cutting it, consider taking your child to be evaluated by a physical therapist.  

As movement and activity specialists, physical therapists are experts at identifying if there is an overuse injury and determining which factors mentioned above are most likely contributing to the situation. A physical therapy evaluation will screen for muscle imbalances, form breakdown, and potential maladaptive movement patterns that may be causing overuse injuries.

Following the evaluation, a physical therapist will develop a personalized plan of care that takes into consideration the demands of the sport or activity and the young athlete’s tolerance to those demands.

Based on your child’s presentation, their physical therapist will utilize various manual therapy techniques and prescribe exercises to accurately address any potential weakness, tightness, and/or correct suboptimal movement patterns to expedite the recovery process and promote healthy function and get them back in the game as quickly and safely as possible.

young girl watches her golf ball after a drive

Keep your kid in the game.

Physical therapy is a proven process for treating overuse injuries. From injury recovery to achieving optimal performance, our passion is to help every patient reach their goals!

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