It seems that there still exists some confusion about injuries in young athletes.
Some think that injuries are due to bad luck, or just the inherent stress of sports. Others believe that poor training or a lack of conditioning is to blame, while others believe this is simply a problem for older or more elite athletes to deal with, as kids don’t have to worry about serious injuries.
So what is the deal?
Let’s get to the bottom of this, so we can focus on the overall objective, which is to allow kids to maximize their potential, be safe, and have a blast playing the games we all love!
My clinical and training experience tells me clearly that injuries are largely preventable, and often attributed to:
- inadequate training, or being unprepared for the demands of the sport
- poor training, in which the training itself causes or contributes to injury which is really a travesty.
- Improper rest and recovery due to too little sleep, poor nutrition, or doing too much sport (think year around baseball)
- Improper response to early warning signs of injury. This is perhaps the biggest issue. Most problems give you more than fair warning before they rear their ugly heads. Think of the young pitcher throwing across his body, stepping with the lead leg in an open position, lacking sufficient shoulder rotation and most importantly complaining of PAIN = hello shoulder and elbow growth plate damage. Or, the girls whose knees collapse inward during a squat or jump stop. That signals a high risk for a complete ACL rupture.
I can go on and on. I’m not trying to scare you – but these issues are serious and can be easily identified and corrected with trained eyes assessing the issue and designing the right intervention. Simple concept, but often ignored.
So what can we do about this? Does conditioning play a role in preventing injuries in young athletes? Let’s look at some research and expert opinion about some common issues regarding the role of youth conditioning and injury prevention:
Is there any proof that resistance training is safe for young athletes?
“There is no current evidence to support the misconceptions that children need androgens (i.e. must be post-puberty) for strength gain, or lose flexibility with training.”
– Lyle J. Micheli, MD, Boston Children’s Hospital, JAAOS, 2001
“Experimental training protocols with weights and resistance machines and with supervision and low instructor/participant ratios are relatively safe and do not negatively impact growth and maturation of pre- and early-pubertal youth.”
-Malina, Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 2006
Are Injuries in young athletes really a big problem?
Injuries in young athletes are increasing
“I am seeing four times as many overuse injuries in youth sports than five years ago and more kids are having surgery for chronic sports injuries.”
-Dr. James Andrews, regarded as the world foremost expert of orthopedic surgery and dysfunction of the shoulder and elbow in baseball pitchers.
Overuse injuries are the most common
Nearly half of all sports injuries to middle-and high-school students, are due to overuse.
30% to 50% of all pediatric sports injuries are due to overuse
-SAFE Kids USA
Overuse injuries are more devastating
“Athletes who had overuse injuries lost 54% more time from training and competition than those who had acute injuries.”
“In some cases, the damage is permanent, increasing the risk that the athletes—some of them as young as 9—will suffer crippling arthritis or require extensive surgery as they get older.”
-Difiori, Physician and Sports Medicine
Is proper conditioning the solution?
“50% of overuse injuries in children and adolescents are preventable.”
– The American College of Sports Medicine
“Most overuse injuries can be prevented with proper conditioning and training”.
– Dr. John P. Difirori, Physician and Sports Medicine, ‘99
“Young athletes need proper training for sports. They should be encouraged to train for the sport rather than expecting the sport itself to get them into shape. Many injuries can be prevented if youths follow a regular conditioning program.”
– American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
“Cross-training in moderation throughout the year is recommended to prevent any one area of the body from becoming overworked and stressed and to help maintain overall fitness levels.”
-American Academy of Pediatrics
“Risk factors identified for overuse injuries include inflexibility, muscle imbalance, prior injury Inadequate conditioning Anatomic malalignment, low self-esteem, Too-rapid training progression and/or inadequate rest, and incorrect sport technique”
– Difiori, Physician and Sports Medicine
Hopefully, for the sake of the safety and health of young athletes, it is clear now that proper conditioning really can prevent many disabling injuries. Of course, no injuries are completely preventable. But we would be ignoring the evidence and opinions of experts by not taking proactive steps shown to reduce the risk of injuries.
Trained professionals focusing on teaching athletes, not just yelling at them and pointing them from station to station, are required to ensure young athletes achieve the benefits of conditioning. Trainers who focus on teaching kids how to push to improve performance and distinguish this hard work from the unnecessary risks and warnings of injury are something every athlete should have. I’m proud to say that our team of Physical Therapists, Athletic Trainers, and Nutritionists at Spectrum Fitness Consulting has developed the skills and program required to provide such an experience for young athletes.