According to Dr. Peter J. Millett, pushing your child in sports too young and too hard may cause injuries that last a lifetime
If you saw the movie Black Swan in theaters recently, then you possibly may have felt sorry for Natalie Portman’s character, “Nina”, a world-class ballerina who was chosen for the perfect role. While beautiful, graceful, and outstandingly flexible, she was an astonishing example of just how far the human body can go and how much one will endure to win.
While this example may seem extreme, it is not uncommon. From football to soccer, swimming to hockey, baseball to ballet, sports — and the young athletes that train hard to win at them — have taken the word compete to an all-new level.
For the most part, parents are typically happy enough to have their kids running around in the sunshine having fun with their friends and getting some physical activity. This is the reason why millions of parents sign their kids up for sports each year.
Let’s face it, sports are excellent vehicles for kids to develop coordination, healthy lifestyle habits, and to learn teamwork. The U.S. Center for Disease Control states that nearly 30 million children and adolescents participate in youth sports in the United States each year.
However, orthopedic specialists are heeding some serious warnings about youth sports injuries for all die-hards.
Dr. Peter J. Millett, an orthopedic shoulder surgeon and sports medicine doctor with The Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado states, “The children who exhibit special talents and who excel at certain sports are the ones who will be in for a long ride. While winning is a principal goal for all athletes, staying healthy ultimately becomes more important”
“Unfortunately,” he continues, “The harder and more intense the competition, the longer the hours and the more time spent training, the greater the risk for significant injury – particularly from overuse injuries!”
Sports Injuries Among Our Youth
According to the Sports Trauma Overuse and Prevention (STOP) campaign, youth sports injuries have reached epidemic heights. It is estimated that more than 3.5 million kids under the age of 14 receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year, a large majority of which are caused by overuse.
“There are many reasons why our young athletes sustain injuries, “says Dr. Millett. “For one, children aren’t completely finished growing until after puberty. Until that time, their tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones are still growing and changing and are therefore vulnerable to injury.”
As an internationally known sports medicine doctor, Dr. Millett routinely treats professional athletes and Olympians, as well as weekend warriors, who come to Colorado from around the world to be treated for acute injuries sustained during competition. Many chronic conditions that he sees are the result of old sports injuries sustained many years prior.
Some young athletes show signs of joint damage from years of training, overuse, and wear and tear, particularly those who have not had adequate rest between seasons. The orthopedic specialists at The Steadman Clinic see overuse and traumatic injuries to the knee, spine, hip, hand and ankle as well.
While no sport is spared from overuse injuries, baseball is a prime example of how childhood injuries can lead to problems later in life.
According to Medco Sports Medicine, a supplier of sports-related medical products, injuries in professional and collegiate baseball players frequently result from years of overuse and repetitive motion. Elbow and shoulder injuries are at the top of the list.
A recent study of collegiate males in the United States reported fifteen percent of the athletes who had pitched in youth baseball stated that pain, tenderness, or limited motion compromised their ability to throw.
Similar stories can be associated with the hip. Alex Rodriguez, third baseman for the New York Yankees, suffered from a damaged hip in 2009, a condition that was most likely the result of years of strenuous twisting, rotating and overuse, starting very early in youth sports.
Aside from baseball, other examples of sports injuries suffered by our youth include:
- Football players risk injury to almost every body part from dislocated shoulders and collarbones, to torn ACLs and fractures.
- Gymnasts place the spine, wrists and ankles at incredible risk.
- Basketball players are susceptible to overhead injuries involving the shoulder that can lead to shoulder instability as well as foot and ankle problems such as chronic ankle sprains.
- Golfers commonly have injuries involving hip rotation and tear in the rotator cuff tendons of the shoulder.
- Soccer players most often experience knee injuries involving the ACL, MCL and/or meniscus.
According to Dr. Millett, acute traumatic youth sports injuries are also common. “Two-thirds of these injuries occur in practice, not in games,” he explained, “Because only one-third of parents and coaches employ the same set of safety regulations for a practice setting. This is a perfect opportunity for us to intervene and make practice safer.”
Sprains, ligament tears, and fractures are some of the more common traumatic injuries.
“Later in life, degenerative conditions associated with injury and years of training become a large burden on many athletes who are long past their sporting careers. I’ve seen the early stages of arthritis in many of my young patients, and it only gets worse with age. It is crucial that all athletes understand how to protect themselves while playing sports and follow the recommended safety guidelines when it comes to stretching, therapy, wearing protective devices and guards.”
But most importantly, says Dr. Millett, “Knowing when to take a break and when to rest seems to be one of the most overlooked points of all. Rest is an important factor that, in and of itself can help save the joints of many of our young athletes for years and years to come.”
About the Author
Kristy M. Theis is a Dallas, TX freelance communications writer and the editor for eMedical Media. Dr. Peter J. Millett is an Orthopedic Shoulder Surgeon, Sports Medicine Doctor and a Partner at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, CO.