WEDNESDAY, March 10, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Orthopedic surgeons warn that sports injuries in children are rising dramatically, creating a "silent epidemic."
But they add that awareness and early treatment can keep young athletes from developing serious problems.
One expert scheduled to speak Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons in New Orleans said injuries are increasing because kids are playing sports year-round -- often without seasonal breaks -- and being exposed to more athletic activity by playing on more than one team at once.
"This increased exposure means there will continue to be growing numbers of significant musculoskeletal injuries, both traumatic and chronic overuse," said Dr. Thomas M. DeBerardino, an associate professor of orthopedics at the University of Connecticut Health Center who specializes in sports medicine.
But awareness and prevention can make a difference, he said. "Even athletes at the college and pro levels have mandated downtimes. We cannot wait for kids to reach the college level to modify their training, because by that time it could be too late."
In another presentation, Dr. Theodore J. Ganley, director of sports medicine at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, warned that young gymnasts often develop osteochondritis dissecans injuries -- a softening of bone underneath cartilage. But detection of warning signs can head off severe trouble, he said in a news release from the academy.
Warning signs include persistent pain during activity, painful elbow swelling, locking of the elbow joint and loss of motion.
"Early detection can allow for the option of non-operative treatments, such as activity modification followed by physical therapy," Ganley said. "This can promote complete healing and rehabilitation allowing the young gymnast to fully return to his or her sport."
The American Academy of Pediatrics has tips on sports injury prevention for kids.