Q: [School-Aged] My son has been complaining about aches and pains, sometimes he will come home from a practice and walk around like an old man…and he’s 11! How can I make sure he isn’t overdoing it?
A: Doctors and community groups have been telling parents for a long time that their children should be more active, but as more kids exercise their growing bodies by playing organized sports, we’re seeing an increase in overuse injuries—young athletes getting hurt because they play too hard or too much.
Take soccer, for example. This sport, which is rocketing in popularity among American children, can cause heel, knee, and shin problems from repeatedly kicking the ball. And consider little league elbow, swimmer’s shoulder, runner’s knee—all of these common injuries are caused by repetitive motion in sports that are popular among young people.
Sports-loving kids can avoid overdoing it by following these guidelines:
- Taking a break. Playing the same sport for hours on end, several times a week, takes a toll on a growing body. Regular exercise should be encouraged, but children need to be given a reasonable break (at least one day a week) from competitive sports. This allows their bodies to recover.
- Playing on one team at a time. There is a greater chance of injuring the same body part repeatedly when an athlete plays on several teams of the same sport at the same time, or when the season for one sport overlaps with the season for another. Limiting play to one team and one sport per season reduces the stress that any particular muscle, bone, or joint must withstand.
- Mixing the types of sports played. If your young athlete plays two or more sports, it’s best if she takes on sports that give her diverse workouts. For example, cross-country running and golf use different muscles groups; basketball and softball don’t.
- Keeping it fun. A child gets more out of sports when the focus is on enjoyment rather than winning. When organized sports emphasize the development of physical skill and being part of a team rather than winning a trophy or going pro, young athletes are less likely to burn out; they’re also more likely to remain interested in physical fitness over the course of their lives.
Stephen L. Tocci, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon and chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Mission Hospital, part of the St. Joseph Hoag Health network of care. Born and raised in Mission Viejo, Dr. Tocci enjoys spending time with his wife and three children. www.mission4health.com