The recent New York Post article titled “The epidemic that’s ruining youth sports” inspired Jon Rogers, PT, DPT to provide insight on overuse injuries from a Physical Therapist’s perspective.
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. At all ages, we’re constantly using our bodies, and everything we do puts some sort of stress on our body structures. The human body is capable of withstanding a tremendous amount of stress, given proper preparation and adequate recovery. Without preparation and recovery, we put ourselves at risk for potential injuries.
When athletes train, practice, or play – small forces stress their bodies, causing very small amounts of breakdown in their tissues. With proper rest, hydration, and nourishment, the body is capable of repairing and rebuilding itself. However, if an athlete’s body isn’t given enough time to recover between bouts of activity, these small stresses can lead to trouble!
When student athletes specialize in a single sport, the tissues specific to that sport get stressed repeatedly. Over-participation, by playing on school, club and travel teams day in and day out, season after season, can create situations where there just isn’t enough time away from the stress to repair and rebuild the young athlete’s tissues. These small stresses add up, and make them more susceptible to overuse sprains, strains, and ruptures.
What can help prevent overuse?
Recovery Time. This includes resting the specific tissues from stress, which means taking a break from pitching, running, jumping, or swimming, as well as getting adequate sleep. This has become increasingly difficult as student athletes juggle practice, games, homework, community involvement, a social life, etc. Every professional sport has an off-season, so it’s unrealistic to expect student athletes to participate in their sport all year, when even the pros don’t!
Mix it Up. Playing a few different sports utilizes and strengthens a variety of muscle groups. In doing this, athletes may develop muscles that would otherwise be underdeveloped by playing a single sport. This cross-training effect may provide important stability, to help prevent injury. The varied skills and motor patterns gained in an additional sport may even give an athlete a leg-up over athletes with a narrow focus on a single sport.
If it’s Broke, Fix It. Much too often, young athletes attempt to play through their injuries. Sometimes it’s their own decision, but in many instances, their coaches or parents encourage it. Parents are often concerned that their child will fall behind in their performance, or don’t want to withdraw their child because they’ve already paid for the full session. However, missing a few weeks to allow recovery from an overuse injury typically will not inhibit a young athlete from reaching their maximum potential, whereas “playing through it” could ultimately derail their athletic aspirations or give them life-long issues with chronic pain.
Be Prepared. Preventative measures like proper hydration, nutrition, and stretching before and after participation can help reduce stress to the body and prevent overuse injuries. Athletes should also speak to a Physical Therapist about identifying and addressing asymmetries and imbalances in their strength and flexibility, to help prevent injuries.
Jon Rogers, PT, DPT
ProEx Physical Therapy, an affiliate of Professional Physical Therapy