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Published on August 16, 2019

Too Little for Too Much: 4 Tips for Avoiding Overuse Injuries in Young Athletes

4 Tips for Avoiding Overuse Injuries in Young Athletes

Our children are being asked to do more and more in the name of sports. They are asked to choose their sport at an earlier age, “be the best” at their sport, and participate in longer, more frequent practices. Is all this healthy for our children? The answer is a resounding NO! Early sport specialization and the increased hours of practice that go with it have increased the risk of overuse injuries in young athletes.

An overuse injury is damage to a muscle, tendon, ligament or bone caused by repetitive stress such as shin splintstennis elbow and runner’s knee. Children are particularly at risk because their bones are still growing and thus less able to tolerate stress. Remarkably, over half of all sports related injuries in children are from overuse.

Fortunately, there are several things you can have your child do to avoid these problems:

A proper warm-up and cool-down is essential. This will prepare the muscles and ligaments for the stress of practice and help recovery after practice.

  1. Avoid participating in any single sport more than five days/week. The body needs at least 1-2 days/week for rest and recovery.
  2. An athlete should only participate in one sport and on one team each season. 
  3. If an older athlete is starting to specialize in their sport, they still need a combined three months off per year from their sport (though this can be spread out in one month increments).
  4. Know the recommendations and restrictions for each sport and follow them. For instance, there are guidelines for how many pitches a young baseball player can throw in a day (and then how many days of rest should occur). This should include pitches during team practice, games and “throwing a few” in the backyard with parents or friends.

Preventing overuse injuries will not only allow children to keep playing their sport, but following the suggestions above will also decrease their risk of burnout with their sport. If you feel that your child might have an overuse injury, physical therapy and occupational therapy can help them recover and learn strategies to avoid future injuries.

About the Author

Margie Moton, PT, Physical Therapist at Moses Cone Hospital Acute Rehab