Overuse injuries in youth sports have become common

Youth sports have evolved over recent decades. Among the most obvious changes are the higher levels of competition. It is not uncommon for an athlete to compete for several different teams during the same season. This uncontrolled exposure to injury often results in overuse orthopedic injuries in children.

Overuse injuries are the result of chronic repetitive trauma to a joint. As opposed to an acute injury, the symptoms are subtle and gradually worsen, making diagnosis of these injuries more challenging.

Typically, these injuries affect the bones, muscles and tendons in a joint. They include sprains, strains and stress fractures. Treatment includes rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medications.

A recent study presented at the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine looked at 149 Japanese pitchers ages 7-11. None of the athletes entered in the study had elbow pain at the beginning of the season. Those who threw more than 50 pitches a day and 200 pitches per week while playing in more than 70 games per year were more likely to develop elbow pain.

Some American little leagues do not allow an athlete to throw more than 50 pitches per game. Another solution to overuse is to play multiple sports that use different skills and biomechanics.

“Pain is the principal sign that it’s time to take a break,” reports Dr. Ashok Kotaratharra, a local pediatrician at UCFS. “Trying to hang in despite discomfort may lead to permanent injury.”

Parents should carefully monitor workout schedules and be sure that young athletes receive proper coaching to avoid overuse injuries that can shorten a potentially stellar sports career.

Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at agalessi@uchc.edu

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