Does your child play one sport all year round? Play on several travel ball teams? If so, these are risk factors that can increase your child’s risk of overuse injuries. Overuse injuries are injuries that occur over time and are a result of repetitive micro-trauma to the bones, joints and tendons. These injuries include Little League elbow and shoulder, runner’s knee, jumper’s knees, shin splints, and Achilles tendinitis.
Symptoms of overuse injuries include pain when moving, soreness, tenderness when touched and swelling. Athletes’ joints may not be able to move as well as they usually do. For example, symptoms of Little League elbow include difficulty straightening the arm and a stiff elbow. For Little League shoulder, your child’s throwing may be slower or less controlled.
Overuse injuries can happen to any child; however, they are more common in athletes who are trying to do too much too soon and often occur with overtraining, playing several months in a row, or returning from a previous injury. Another common culprit is a slight change in the athlete’s form or mechanics that puts an increase strain on bones, growth plates, muscles and tendons.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Overuse injuries are usually diagnosed with an evaluation by a sports medicine physician. X-rays are often required and sometimes further imaging such as an MRI is also needed.
Overuse injuries are often treated with activity modification including decreasing activity duration, intensity and frequency. Frequently a period of complete rest is needed. Working with a sports medicine physician, physical therapist or trainer can help establish a specific recovery plan. The recovery plan will improve technique, form and strength with a goal of reducing strain on the joints.
Overuse injuries can be reduced or prevented by:
- Doing an active warm-up and stretching before activity.
- Icing as needed after an activity.
- Avoiding specializing in a single sport at a young age.
- Not doing too much activity too soon after injury or before building up to the level of skill and strength needed.