For many families this time of year when the kids go back to school also starts the time where youth sports are increasing. With this increase in participation comes an increase in injuries. Patrick Mularoni, M.D., the medical director of the sports medicine program at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, helps parents understand how to deal with an injured athlete.
It would seem that all the emphasis on player safety would lead to fewer injuries related to sport. Is this generation of youth athletes safer?
It's true that we have come a long way in creating better protective equipment for athletes. This includes better technology and better material in helmets, mouth guards and protective padding. Unfortunately there are several other factors that go into injuries in sport. Many people talk about today’s athletes being bigger, stronger and faster so in any sport that involves contact that will involve more force. In addition, we are seeing kids playing sports year round without an offseason so physicians who treat athletes are seeing a lot more injuries associated with overuse. It’s the increase in these overuse injuries that has become alarming.
So what can parents do to avoid these overuse injuries?
This is a very hard question because children are specializing in a single sport at very young ages, and in Florida, the wonderful weather allows them to play 12 months a year. So the best thing for children is to have an offseason. When we look at professionals, most sports have an offseason where the athletes cross train and give their bodies a rest. This doesn’t mean that they have to stop the sport entirely, but the athlete should definitely have a time each year where he or she decreases volume, and I think that is a perfect time to try another sport.
During the season, many athletes will play through pain so parents can avoid these overuse injuries by knowing what to look for. For any child, if you notice that they are limping or avoiding the use of a joint, you should pull them out. There is a difference between soreness in muscles and pain in a joint. With children, pain in a joint is always bad. If this is happening you should definitely see your doctor.
With all of these injuries, is sports participation decreasing?
Unfortunately, organized sports participation in school-age children is decreasing for several reasons with one of them being the high cost of youth sports. The participation rate in children ages 6-12 is actually decreasing, but there has been a consistent increase in sports participation in high school students.
An increase in sports participation is good because staying active is one of the best ways to avoid childhood obesity. We should definitely encourage our children to play sports, and that suggestion goes for playing multiple sports throughout the year. When it comes to sports, variety is the best plan to keep children active and injury free.
This information was shared on WTVT-TV’s Doc on Call segment, which is aimed at helping parents learn more about children’s health issues. The segment airs each Monday morning on Good Day Tampa Bay.