Overuse Injuries: How Can You Prevent Them?

To put overuse injuries into perspective, imagine you are painting a fence. It’s not a chore you do often, but in the spring you slap another coat on, repeating the brush strokes up and down, up and down, for the better part of the day. How does your shoulder feel the next day?

A little ice and maybe a Motrin, and in a few days you are fine. But if your child is throwing pitches or reaching overhead to spike volleyballs, day after day with little rest, those shoulders are going to scream. That is an overuse injury.

Overuse injuries result from repetitive movements that put too much stress on the bones and soft tissues such as muscles and tendons. Sports that require repeated loading such as baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis and distance running may result in increased stress and injury to the growth plate.

Repetitive trauma (throwing, pitching, running, hitting a volleyball overhead) produces microscopic cracking of the bone and produces pain. If you keep going you could get a stress fracture.

Causes of overuse injuries are:

– Growth spurts or an imbalance between flexibility and strength
– Poor or no warm-up period
– too much activity
– playing the same sport year-around
– poor technique
– poor equipment
– poor playing surfaces
– not listening to your child’s body
– specializing too soon
– not enough sleep

When a child is growing, the bones grow quickly and may not be synchronized with the growth of the soft tissues, including the tendons and ligaments. If the bones have lengthened, this puts more stretch and stress on tendons and ligaments.

Common types of overuse injuries:

– swimmer’s shoulder (includes shoulder pain from overuse of the rotator cuff muscles)
– thrower’s shoulder (appears in kids who pitch)

Some sports are just not age appropriate. Throwing sports should be introduced after a kid has developed good coordination and balance. It’s wrong to expect little boys and girls to pitch. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that children not play any team sport until they are at least six years old. Before your child begins a sport, get him or her into shape. Conditioning may include stretching, warm-ups, and aerobic exercise.

Start your child slowly with a new sport and increase the training program and activity gradually. Again, this is better advice for the coach, but parents should be observant. Let your child take some time off from playing if he or she feels tired or is in pain. There is no point in overdoing it.

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