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Health

Staying in the Game: Youth Sports Injuries

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Your child may be fearless on the field, wearing grass stains like badges of honor, but when are sports injuries more than something they can just “walk off?”

Beyond Bruises

Youth sports injuries typically occur from overuse or from a traumatic event, like a fall.

Common injuries include:

  • Contusions and abrasions
  • Sprains and strains
  • Fractures
  • Concussions
  • Growth plate injuries or stress
    • Little League elbow: stress on the growth plate of the elbow from repetitive throwing
    • Inflammation of the growth plates in the hips from overuse
    • Osgood Schlatter: knee pain due to stress in the growth plate of the knee, commonly seen with running and jumping sports
    • Sever’s disease: inflammation of the growth plate in the heel from excessive running and jumping
    • Gymnast wrist: inflammation of the growth plate at the end of the forearm bone

Is the risk of injury higher for youth athletes?

Youth and adolescent athletes have open growth plates, which are at risk of injury, but their overall risk is not necessarily higher than young adult or adult athletes. Higher injury rates can be attributed to multiple factors specific to children:

  • They have an increased risk of falls, as sense of balance is still developing.
  • Their reaction times may be slower.
  • They tend to be more physically active and spend more time engaging in physical play than adults.

When should you take your child to see a physician?

If your child is particularly active, bumps, bruises and fatigue may come and go periodically. Keep an eye out for self-limiting behavior or lack of use to determine if you need to take your child to the physician.

Here are signs that your child has a more serious injury that requires medical care:

  • Pain that’s constant or that wakes your child up from sleep
  • Swelling
  • Cramping or tingling
  • Tenderness
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Avoiding use of a body part during free play
  • Weakness
  • Decreased athletic performance

How is recovery different for younger athletes?

Children are not “little adults;” they have different anatomy and need individualized treatment plans for any sports-related injury. Typically, kids should not stop activity all together unless a particular injury requires it. Active rehabilitation with modified or substituted activities is usually beneficial.

How can you help your child athlete prevent injury?

Ensure that your child is a well-rounded athlete by diversifying their physical activities. The general rule for overall success in sports is starting your child in a chosen sport early, but letting them specialize in it later. Keep the perspective that your child is not a professional athlete.

Early sport specialization — having your child play one sport year-round — can lead to:

  • Overuse injuries
  • Underdevelopment of muscle groups
  • Decreased overall fitness
  • Social isolation
  • Overdependence on the sport
  • Physical and psychological burnout

While sports can lead to injury, they are beneficial to your child’s overall development. Listen to and observe your child to help them avoid injury, and to know when to seek medical care so they don’t have to sit on the sidelines for long.

  • Brian Babka, MD, sports medicine, Northwestern Medicine Orthopaedics

For more information, or to make an appointment with Dr. Babka, please visit nm.org/ortho or call 630.225.2663.