One of the biggest issues facing our youth is overuse injuries. According to Safe Kids USA, over 30 million children and adolescents participate in youth athletics. More than 4 million of these children will suffer an injury requiring medical attention each year. This is at a cost of billions of dollars to the US economy. Even more alarming is that 50% of these injuries are overuse injuries that are completely preventable. Additionally, many of the acute injuries, the quote-on-quote accidents, are also preventable with better equipment, training, and technique.
Overuse injuries are more common and more difficult to diagnose and treat than acute injuries. This is because they can be very subtle and usually occur over time and are the result of what’s called repetitive micro-trauma. A microtrauma is a small injury that can occur to bone, muscle, tendon or ligament. Examples are microtears to muscle fibers, stress to the tendon or bruising of the bone. When this happens over and over again an overuse injury can develop.
Common examples of an overuse injury include tennis elbow, swimmer’s shoulder, jumper’s knee, swimmers shoulder, Achilles tendinitis, and stress fractures.
Symptoms usually develop gradually and can be long lasting. Classic symptoms include pain during activity, ache/sore at rest, and swelling. There is no known cause or event (i.e. my foot just started hurting. Felt fine during the run and then poof! Got off the couch and could barely walk on it).
Unlike acute injuries where you are dealing with specific symptoms that began with a specific injury, overuse injuries are much more gradual in their onset. Often times, athletes describe these types of injuries as “starting out of nowhere”. Sometimes there can be small warning signs, such as muscle stiffness or a dull ache in the days and weeks leading up to the injury, but more often than not there are no signs at all. It doesn’t help that the early signs and symptoms are things that most athletes chalk up to being the normal aches & pains of training.
The following maybe signs and symptoms of an overuse injury:
Most overuse injuries can be prevented with proper training and common sense. Overuse injuries can heal quickly in children, but they require complete rest of the injured area while it heals.
Players should be aware of their physical condition. Even seemingly minor injuries should be treated appropriately. Injuries tend to increase as players fatigue, so adequate rest is essential. Players should also warm-up and stretch prior to any practice or game, and warm-down and stretch afterwards.
Many injuries can be prevented with:
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