by Michael Suk, MD, JD
Chair of the Geisinger Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
Tournaments and championships are inspiring — young athletes at the top of their game, representing their home teams. Think of the dedication it took to get there. Practice. Practice. Practice — it’s the only way to get that good.
Unfortunately, practicing a repetitive motion like throwing can damage bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons. At our sports medicine clinics we see these overuse injuries all the time — and unfortunately, we’re seeing them happen to younger kids.
Many kids today, hoping to be superstars, are concentrating on a single sport too early, which puts repetitive stress on the same muscle groups and can lead to physical burnout. Children and teens are at an increased risk for overuse injuries because their bones are still growing and are less resilient than those of adult athletes. Young people should be encouraged to try a variety of sports and not think about specializing until age 15 or 16.
Overuse injuries start subtly, with pain after physical activity. Gradually, this pain occurs during physical activity without affecting performance. But before you know it, the pain will affect performance and your child might be on their way to chronic pain, even at rest. Pain that could affect them into adulthood.
Ice can be used to reduce inflammation and soreness while ibuprofen can be used for the pain, but the best course of treatment for overuse is rest, especially from the activity that led to the pain. If your kids have been encouraged to “play through the pain,” make sure they stop and rest instead. Young bodies need time to heal.
And there are other changes you can make now to protect your children in the future — and make them better athletes now. Increases in training time should be no more than 10% per week. Endurance workouts should be varied to include a variety of activities such as running, swimming, biking or elliptical trainers. And athletes of all ages should warm up properly and stretch before beginning strenuous activity.
But if overuse symptoms persist, even after taking time away from the game, then it’s time to take your child to a doctor — especially if they’ve lost full-range motion in any of their joints. Geisinger’s pediatric orthopaedic surgeons have specialized training to diagnose and treat bone, joint and muscle problems in children. We also have the largest concentration of sports medicine providers in the region and provide care for numerous universities and high schools as well as professional hockey and baseball teams.
We understand athletes. We understand kids. And most importantly, we understand that your young athlete is still a kid with growing bones — and we know how to treat them accordingly.
Your child will want to get back in the game as soon as possible. But with time off and proper care, they can avoid future complications like osteoarthritis. Our sports medicine team is dedicated to keeping them at the top of their game — even as adults.