The overlooked epidemic


Junior cheerleader Morgan Stack is checked out by a trainer during a home football game.

Bradi Cheesman, Staff Writer

More than 46.5 million children play team sports, and as the number continues to grow, doctors and surgeons are seeing a large and unsettling increase in injuries in youth sports.

Participation in any kind of sport has an inherent risk for injury, but with 1.35 million kids being sent to the emergency room with sports-related injuries, and emergency rooms treating more than 8,000 sports injuries in kids each day, you can tell that it is much more than just an incidental injury.

High school athletes alone suffer 2 million injuries, half a million doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations every year according the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Doctors and surgeons both agree that excessive practice and play, often beginning at a young age and continuing into the teen years, is what is causing this epidemic.

According to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM), surgeons are seeing two very serious trends: the number of youth injuries is increasing and children are experiencing injuries more commonly seen in the pros at a younger age.

Take ACL tears for example. This was an injury that only collegiate and professional athletes seemed to face at one point in time, but the number of these injuries affecting school-aged kids and adolescents has greatly increased within the last 20 years, with the numbers increasing by 2.5 percent per year alone.

No single sport is to blame for this increase either.

Experts suspect that choosing to play one sport all the time or playing several sports all at once, are factors leading what are called overuse injuries.

“Any sport can produce an overuse injury,” explained Dr. Cynthia LaBella, medical doctor at the Institute for Sports Medicine at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

“Overuse injuries are increasing for a couple of reasons. Sports are much more competitive at an earlier age, and many children are playing one sport year-round now. They’re not getting enough time off for their bodies to recover. Or, they might be playing three sports at once, and what that amounts to is that they never get a day off.”

Along with that, many athletes often hesitate to report an injury, and return to play to please the coach.

That’s why having health care professionals involved in an athlete’s healing process is crucial.

Children are particularly susceptible to repetitive injuries because they’re still growing, and these injuries create problems.
Overuse injuries pose a risk to child growth and long-term musculoskeletal health, and knee injuries, which are very common, can lead to arthritis later in life.

An injury that a 14- or 16-year-old suffers can impact them for the rest of their lives.

On the bright side, over half of these injuries can be easily prevented.

By just taking a month off from sports, you reduce your chances of suffering from overuse injuries dramatically and many doctors agree that specializing in a sport should begin after puberty in order to reduce the likelihood of getting injured.

It is also important for athletes to tell coaches whenever something is hurting. Early recognition is the easiest way to get treated and get back into the game, and possibly even prevent injury.

There is no doubt that the best pieces of advice for parents, coaches and athletes alike regarding sports and injuries is to keep the next six months in mind, but to also keep in mind the next 70 years.