Preventing Overuse Injuries
in Young Athletes
One of my passions in sports medicine is treating youth athletes. That can be athletes as young as five to six years old and as old as high school athletes. We really try to make sure we are keeping youth athletes safe from injury so we can ensure they have a long career. One of the big pushes at this point in our sports culture is that athletes specialize in sports earlier and earlier and spend more time on one particular sport rather than competing in a of sports. What we found in our research is that early specialization in youth athletes actually leads to injuries – primarily overuse injuries. There are a number of different injuries that young athletes are predisposed to due to them still developing and having open growth plates; which mean they do not having mature bones and mature ligaments, predisposing them to overuse injury.
What I advise my patients, parents and coaches to do is to ensure that the athletes are not doing any one particular position or one particular sport too often, that there are taking breaks usually for at least three months out of the year from any particular sport and that they’re also playing multiple different sports. We have found that when young athletes participate in different sports, it promotes the strengthening and growth of different areas of their musculoskeletal system which promotes less injuries, promotes balance, and promotes better development even in their primary sport.
One of the really important areas of youth sports that we’ve been looking at is Little League Baseball. There’s been a significant increase in the number of pitchers and catchers that we see in our youth sports that are starting earlier and attempting to throw harder. This has led to a number of different shoulder and elbow injuries that we have typically only seen in professional athletes that we are now finding in our youth athletes.
During my fellowship at Andrews Institute, Dr. James Andrews would always talk about how years ago he never used to see youth athletes come in with UCL injuries (the ligament that’s on the inside of the elbow that can necessitate the surgery known as “Tommy John” surgery). He used to only see professional athletes and very high level college athletes with that injury in his clinics, but now we’re seeing it more and more with our youth athletes, and that’s directly related to the increased number of pitches that youth athletes are throwing and playing baseball year around without taking adequate time off to recover and develop other aspects of their musculoskeletal system.
This is an area that I am very passionate about and I counsel my patients, families, and the entire team that’s involved in youth athlete concerning. That includes the parents, coaches, physical therapist, school gym teachers, athletic trainers, etc. – to make sure they’re all on the same page and they are not doing any particular sport too often.
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