How to Prevent Child Athlete Injuries Caused by Overuse
The first step in helping to prevent an overuse injury is understanding what they are.
Overuse injuries are chronic, occurring slowly over time due to repetitive use and stress without the chance for recovery. They can affect athletes of any age, especially those who specialize in one sport, where the same movements are made over and over without proper care taken for rest days or off seasons.
This risk of injury is amplified for children and young adults as bones are still growing. Overuse injuries tend to affect the growth plate of the bones, but can also include problems with tendons, stress fractures, and knee pain.
Common symptoms of overuse injuries are:
- Decreased performance
Any young athlete who begins to show symptoms of an overuse injury should take a break from the sport and see a sports medicine provider or orthopedic specialist for diagnosis. A medical professional can help determine what, if any, damage has occurred, how to remediate it, and what precautions need to be taken in the future.
1. Prevention First
The good news for those with active kids is that preventing an overuse injury is a relatively simple task. Here are a few general guidelines that can help moderate athletic activity to a healthy and safe level throughout the year.
- Child athletes should have a Well Visit check annually to ensure they are healthy enough for safe sports activity.
- Any activity should start and end with a proper warm-up or cooldown exercises and stretching.
- Avoid specializing in a sport early. Encourage playing a variety of sports or activities throughout middle school.
- Incorporate proper rest with practice limited to five days a week and dedicated off-seasons (3 months total per year) between each sport. They can still play, but dedicated practices should be limited to general activity.
- Slowly build any training routines regarding time, mileage, or repetitions, and make sure to cross-train strength and endurance between sports.
Preparation and moderation will help prevent an overuse injury in a child athlete. These guidelines can also help avoid burnout and the mental and hormonal side of overexertion in sports.
Remember, athletics should be fun for our kids! Make sure to check in with how they feel about playing, and pay attention when they speak up about things that don’t seem right with their bodies.
2. Athletic Bracing
If your child athlete does suffer from an overuse injury, a sports medicine provider or orthopedic specialist may recommend the use of a bracing device on the bone or joint where the injury has occurred while participating in the sport.
Knee and wrist braces are the two most commonly recommended for child athletes, so let’s take a look at just a few of the most common ones and how they work.
- Basic Knee Sleeve: Generally manufactured of neoprene, they are a tight-fitting material sleeve that slides over the knee. Sleeves work mainly from compression and can help reduce pain and swelling from several types of knee injuries and help prevent internal joint pressure from causing more significant damage before a doctor can address the injury.
- Knee Pad: Constructed similarly to sleeves, these brace types also incorporate rigid shells with internal padding across the front and partially around the sides of the knee. Opting for knee pads in high-contact activities where your child might hit the ground often, like volleyball or skateboarding, can help protect the joint from direct blows.
- Arm Brace: Often referred to as a tennis elbow brace, these bands help stabilize the arm tendons with gentle pressure to relieve the stress of repeated arms movements.
- Wrist Brace: Wrist braces have a wide range of coverage and bulkiness, but they act much like the other braces on this list. They are designed to help keep the wrist in a neutral position and limit stress on tissues and joints in the wrist and hand.
Bracing should help stabilize the joint and reduce pain. Any athletic brace you choose should not significantly impede the natural range of motion, or else you risk more damage or weakening of the joint.
3. Sports Wellness Checks
If you have any concerns about overuse injuries for your child while participating in athletics, it is always best to have a professional take a look. Most braces look similar, but they all serve particular functions. You won’t need a prescription to pick up most types.
Whether it is your pediatrician, sports medicine provider, or orthopedic specialist, they can help determine the best treatment and prevention for your child.
4. Keep An Eye Out
Kids can sometimes have a dogged determination to keep moving. That determination can sometimes make it difficult to suss out something is wrong. Pay attention to how your child behaves when engaging in play or sport, and listen if they mention any pain or uncomfortable sensations.
Here are a few things to look out for that might indicate an overuse injury:
- Limited motion of a joint
- Pain anywhere along the front, back, or sides of the knee, wrist, or elbow
- A bump or knot has formed around a joint
- Swelling or bruising
- A feeling of weakness or locking up
- Popping noises when a joint bends
- The joint feels as if it is sliding out of place
If you notice any of these, implement some initial home treatment as you schedule them to see the doctor. The best thing you can do is have them rest, ice the area, provide compression (sleeves are excellent for this), and elevate the joint.
Child Athlete Overuse Injury Care in Asheville
If you have noticed any signs of overuse injury in the knee or other joint, let the experts at the Orthopedic Appliance Company help. Since the 1960s, we have offered our patients the highest quality bracing services throughout western North Carolina and beyond.
Our facility and practitioners have met the rigorous standards and are certified by the American Board for Certification in Orthotics and Prosthetics.
We have three convenient locations in Asheville, Fletcher, and Hickory, with more to come. Check to see which is closest, or send us a message with your concerns and location, and we will get you to the right place. We specialize in pediatric bracing and orthoses.