Photo courtesy of www.Sheknows.com
It is widely understood incorporating athletics in a child’s youth development is fruitful for physical, mental, and social development, but there is a possibility these beneficial traits can be undermined by the increased prevalence of overuse injuries. Today’s youth are subject to a modern idea of youth sports that has been “professionalized” in order to benefit the adults making money from pediatric athletics. The shocking truth is that parents are a part of this exploitation. Good news though, you do not have to be a part of this system that could hurt your child. This article will outline how your child may develop an overuse injury, how caregivers have become a part of the problem, what you can do to keep your child safe, and a special note to parents who have a daughter who plays sports.
Reasons for Overuse Injuries
The specialization and professionalization of youth sports have been the main drivers to the rise in frequency of overuse injuries because children are not taking the time to sample different sports in childhood. Freelance writer Michele Wojciechowski quotes Dr. Casey Unverzagt, professor and director of admissions for the DPT program at Baylor University, in her article Not ‘Small Adults’ saying ‘“Encourage youth to sample sports and leave time for free play.”’ Not only does this encourage mental health, but it also reassures that your child does not have to rely on sports to have fun. Wojciechowski, in her article, offers a solution to decrease the possibility of overuse injury: “Integrative Neuromuscular Training” (INT). Simply put, INT is weight training specific to an athlete’s sport. However, this comes at a price since your child must participate in weight room activities since it requires resistance training. This alone comes with risks and hiring a professional trainer to teach your child can be costly. A more practical route would be to expose your child to multiple sports throughout the year. Wojciechowski quotes Teresa Shuemann, physical therapist, who expresses ‘“When athletes use different techniques, they use different parts of the body”’ and allowing for muscles to rest and rebuild is pertinent to living a healthy life as a child going through bodily changes. But as a matter of fact, children are not able to take time to heal because of the extrinsic pressure to specialize in one sport and play all year. On CBS’ hit news broadcast, 60 minutes reporter Sharyn Alfonsi interviewed Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Nirav Pandya saying “I’ve seen kids specialize as young as 7 or 8.” This unfortunate truth neglects Shuemann’s idea and reinforces that children need to sample sports in order to avoid overuse injury. No child as young as 7 or 8 should be seeing an orthopedic surgeon for an overuse injury.
Some Parents are a Part of the Problem
One of the many tasks parents are given is to ensure the safety of their child, but in modern times, some caregivers are willing to jeopardize their child’s physical well-being. Sharyn Alfonsi, explains how “youth athlete ACL injuries are the new norm”, yet this phenomenon is not random, but the effect of parent pressure for their young athlete to succeed. Dr. Nirav Pandya spoke on his experience with parents of youth patients saying “the first thing they [the parents] are asking is when can they get back on the field… it tells me where parent’s priorities are.” These internal priorities may be exploitative of their child since they believe their “kid is on that path to become a professional athlete” Dr. Pandya says. In the same report by Alfonsi, Professor Jay Coakley, award-winning Sociologist, reminds parents of their unreasonable wager saying “if there was a horse that had 100/1 odds on it, you would never bet on it.” Sadly, for these parents, according to the NCAA “about 2 percent of high school athletes are awarded some form of athletics scholarship to compete in college.” Out of this very small percentage comes an elite group of professional athletes therefore making the odds slim to none that your child will be among these numbers. With this being the case, it is very unlikely a parent’s efforts to produce a professional athlete will be successful.
How to Prevent Pediatric Overuse Injury
The first step to prevent the possibility of your child forming this injury is to inform yourself on the topic of youth athlete overuse injuries. Frequent contributor to Orthopedics today, Casey Tingle, explains that organizations such as “Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention (STOP)… was established to investigate… the activities associated with an increase in overuse injuries.” Information to become educated on the topic can be found on the group’s website, https://www.stopsportsinjuries.org. After you become educated on the topic, it is time to form a plan to keep your child safe. One effective parameter is to set a limit on how many hours your child can participate in athletics per week. Explaining the benefits of possible regulation to child athletics Tingle quoted Kocher and colleagues stating ‘“specialization was associated with an increased risk of injury in multiple sports, but when you controlled for the number of hours participating in vigorous sports activity a lot of those effects went away.”’ To those parents pushing their child to the limit for athletic success at an early age, let it be known, Tingle quotes Dr. Shital Parikh, Orthopedic surgeon at Cincinnati Children’s hospital saying ‘“athletes who start to specialize at an earlier age are more likely to quit sports altogether than those who start at later ages of about 15 to 16 years old.”’
Special Note to Parents of Female Athletes
Unfortunately, there is an expectation in today’s society for women to appear lean and athletic especially if you play sports. This affects females at the mental level, but most importantly at the physical level; especially growing women under 18. Tingle, discusses the “female athlete triad” explaining that it refers to the “imbalance between nutrition and exercise.” The consequences for not identifying this is detrimental to your child’s well-being as it results in “an increased risk of stress fractures and osteoporosis” Tingle adds. Young women need support more than ever in the world of sports and as a caregiver it is your responsibility to identify if your child is affected by “the triad.” The early identification of decreased bone density and unbalanced dietary habits are key to making sure your daughter does not fall prey to this life altering circumstance. A standard practice for increasing bone density is weight training, but as Dr. Brandon Bushnell, a board certified Orthopedic surgeon, notes in Tingle’s article, “female athletes often do not want to have that kind of manly bulk.” Consequently, adolescent women are deprived of gaining bone density and muscle mass that would protect their bodies from overuse injuries. In fact, Dr. Bushnell continues expressing “strength training is just as important if you are a female, maybe even more important.” Women are biologically different from men and require greater preparation for sport’s strenuous requirements therefore, the weight room is a necessity if females plan to have a long career in sports.
Gabriel Pate is attending East Carolina University majoring in exercise physiology with a concentration in exercise as medicine
National Collegiate Athletic Association. (March, 2018). NCAA Recruiting Facts. [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/Recruiting%20Fact%20Sheet%20WEB.pdf
Tingle, C. (June, 2018). Weekly Hours Spent in Sports Activity Should not Exceed Young Athlete’s Age. Orthopedicstoday. 38(6), pp.10-12. https://search-proquestcom.jproxy.lib.ecu.edu/docview/2063388702/fulltextPDF/D1A977C1923A445APQ/1?accountid=10639
UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. (November, 2014). Youth Sports Injury Report – 60 Minutes Sports. [Video file]. Retrieved from
https://www.childrenshospitaloakland.org/main/blogs/overuse-injuries-are-plaguingour-young-athletes-36.aspxWojchiechowski, R. (Nov, 2018). Not ‘Small Adults’. PT in Motion. 10(10), pp.29-34https://search.proquest.com/docview/2172050762?pq-origsite=summon