Youth Sports: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Every year, 3.5 million children under age 14 are treated for sports injuries. It's a problem that keeps getting worse.

Rich Mascheri has been playing baseball his whole life.

"I've been playing since I was two years old, since I could pick up a baseball bat," Rich told Ivanhoe.

As a kid, he practiced as often as he could and it paid off. In 2012, he was signed to the New York Yankees as a pitcher, but was released when he suffered a shoulder injury.

"It was like being on top of the world and having that taken away from you," Rich told Ivanhoe.

Rich had surgery and is now working hard to get back into throwing shape. Doctors say injuries like Rich's are becoming more common in younger athletes as they focus on playing a single sport year-round.

"They're starting to specialize at younger and younger ages, so their bodies aren't necessarily getting the rest that they need," Brian Forsythe, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush, told Ivanhoe.

About half of sports injuries in kids and teens are from overuse. A recent study found 75% of baseball players between eight and 18 years old report arm pain while throwing. Nearly 50% of them were encouraged to play through the pain.

"You know you're a kid, you're a growing skeleton," Gregory Nicholson, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush, told Ivanhoe.

To avoid injuries, experts say don't let young athletes specialize in one sport until they at least reach puberty. Limit participation to five days a week or less.

Nicholson told Ivanhoe, "Cross train, play a different sport, do nothing!"

Rich is hoping to get back in the game soon. He hopes other kids will remember to play safe so they too can make their dreams a reality.

Studies show children who play multiple sports have fewer injuries and continue to play longer and at higher levels than those who specialize in one sport before puberty. 

BACKGROUND:  According to the CDC, high school athletes account for two million injuries each year. That amounts to 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations. Overuse injuries are responsible for nearly half of all middle and high school injuries. If you think you have an injury, it's important to take a break. Putting extra pressure and strain could make the injury worse. The initial treatment for most sports injuries can be remembered by the acronym RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. Warming up before a workout or practice may also reduce the risk of injury. (Sources: http://www.stopsportsinjuries.org/media/statistics.aspx, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/sportsinjuries.html)

COMMON SPORTS INJURIES:  From football to tennis, any sport can cause injury. However some of the most common injuries include:

·         sprains

·         fractures

·         dislocations

·         swollen muscles

·         achilles tendon injuries

·         knee problems

(Sources: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/sportsinjuries.html)

OVERUSE INJURIES: As high school and middle school sports become more competitive, many teens and children are putting extra time into their sports. This means that young athletes are working harder and specializing earlier. Doctors at Rush warn that over practicing may lead to more injuries and suggest taking a break. "We feel that all upper extremity youth athletes, and that's volleyball, swimming, baseball, even tennis, should probably take three months off from that sport," Gregory Nicholson, MD, orthopedic surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush told Ivanhoe. Poor technique, using the wrong equipment or shoes and trying to improve too quickly can also lead to more serious overuse injuries. The ten percent rule can be used as a guide of how to increase your training program. You should not increase your activity or training program by more than 10 percent per week. This way, your body has more time to respond to and recover from the previous workout.  (Source: Gregory Nicholson, MD, orthopedic surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush, http://www.sportsmed.org/uploadedFiles/Content/Patient/Sports_Tips/ST%20Overuse%20Injuries%2008.pdf)


Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush physicians, who are team doctors for the Chicago White Sox, Chicago Bulls and Chicago Fire, are working in tandem with the Illinois Athletic Trainers Association to launch Shoulders for Life, a public service campaign urging coaches and athletic directors to impose stricter guidelines for shoulder and elbow use with emphasis on prevention tactics.  For more information, log on to www.shoulderforlife.org to download a prevention exercise brochure and order a prevention gym bag tag for your son or daughter.

* For More Information, Contact:

Gregory P. Nicholson, MD

Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush

1611 W. Harrison

Chicago, IL  60612