Over 60 million children and adolescents participate in youth sports in the United States each year. Aside from the obvious physical benefits of being active, children who participate in team sports also experience:
- Higher self-esteem
- Improved academic performance
- Less stress and better moods
However, participating in youth sports also has its risks as 90% of student athletes report some sort of sports-related injury in their athletic careers. In fact, 2.6 million young athletes are seen in Emergency Rooms across the US each year.
Understanding Youth Sports Injuries
Regardless of age, sports injuries can generally be placed in one of 3 categories:
- Acute: usually a result of a single traumatic event in the last 5 days. Examples: fractures, sprains and strains.
- Overuse: subtle injuries that occur over time, making them challenging to diagnose and treat. Examples: shin splints, runner/jumper’s knee and tennis elbow.
- Chronic: pain that has lasted for 3 months or more. Examples: back, hip and knee pain.
Overuse (also referred to as “burnout”) injuries are particularly common in youth sports. In fact, it is estimated that 50% of all youth sports injuries are a result of overuse. This is due to many youth athletes looking to specialize in one specific sport and bypassing any type of offseason.
Different Types of Sports Injuries
While we can categorize injuries based on length of time the athlete has experienced it, there are different types of injuries that vary in severity.
- Sprain: sprains are a result of overstretching or tearing of the ligament which attaches a bone to another bone.
- Strain: often referred to as “pulls”, they result from the tearing or over-stretching of a muscle or tendon which attaches to a bone.
- Contusions: commonly known as “bruising”, these are injuries to tissue or bone in which a local bleeding response occurs (causing the bruising).
- Tears: tears refer to the complete separation of tissue fibers.
Additionally, the most common causes for injury include improper training techniques, anatomic or biomechanical issues of the athlete and catastrophic events on or off the field.
Preventing Youth Sports Injuries
The most effective prevention strategies combine smart training protocols with intentional recovery periods. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommendations for safe participation in Youth Sports include:
- Taking at least one full month off from a sport at least 2-3 times per year.
- Taking one to two days off from training every per week
- Limiting hours of participation based on the athlete’s age. For instance, a 12 year old should limit participation to 12 hours per week.
- Participating in a variety of sports and delaying single-sport specialization until late adolescence. Sports specialization is defined as “intensive year-round training in a single sport.”
In many cases working with a Physical Therapist following an injury can be the difference between a full recovery and reoccurrence or worsening of an injury.
If you are experiencing pain, or know a young athlete dealing with injuries, don’t hesitate to contact us. The faster you ask for help the faster we’ll be able to get you back on the field.