Kids' Sports Injuries on the Increase

Youngsters are playing too much of one sport, almost year-round, experts warn

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HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Feb. 16, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Kids' sports are becoming more like pro sports, at least when it comes to injuries.

New research finds that serious injuries in young athletes are happening more frequently, and at a younger age.

"This research basically adds to the current concerns and climate that orthopedics have been seeing for probably the last decade," said Dr. Richard Schultz, an assistant professor of surgery at Texas A&M Health Science Center and chief of staff at Scott & White University Medical Campus, at Round Rock.

"The incredible popularity and widespread nature of the club sports or select sports create a level of year-round intensity and single-sports efforts that can really lead to a lot of the overuse injuries in these children," he said. Those types of injuries, "we used to never see until they were late in high school or even college," Schultz said.

But because pediatric athletes are still growing and developing, they are at a higher risk for injury than adult players.

The current research, being presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgery in San Diego, found that 40 percent of all emergency room visits involving children aged 5 to 14 are for sports injuries.

More pre-high school students are sustaining shoulder injuries serious enough to require surgery, the study found. That distinction used to be reserved for older athletes.

And injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) are now being seen in 9- and 10-year-olds. Surgery to deal with the injury can cause more lasting "growth plate disturbances;" growth plates being the areas of developing tissue at the end of the body's long bones.

Another study being presented at the meeting noted a rapid increase in arm injuries in young pitchers, apparently the results of an improper throwing motion. One of these injuries, "little league elbow," seems to result when the athlete winds up and uncurls the body too late before releasing the ball.

According to the first study, about 60 percent of 11- to 18-year-olds have sustained an injury due to the repetitive motion and overuse of the elbow and shoulder.

The issues are complicated by year-round playing.

"Baseball is a good example. It traditionally has been a spring sport, but now these children are playing baseball year round," Schultz said. "We're not seeing the selective stress distributed about their body like we used to see in childhood athletes where they played baseball for fun this month and next month was basketball and next season was football. Stress would be placed in different areas of the child's body, allowing time for recovery. There is widespread overtraining of children."

The experts agreed that players, parents and coaches need to pay better attention to the needs of these developing bodies.

"The two key problems are the focus on a single sport and the lack of expertise in coaching/training these kids from a physiological, biomechanical, psychological and medical perspective," said Malachy McHugh, director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

The neural system needs many different types of activity to develop motor control, he added. "In the past, the star athletes in high school and college were adept at several sports and had a natural talent for all sports," McHugh said. "Today I am amazed at how athletically inept these athletes are when taken out of their single sport comfort zone."

And training needs to match the developmental stage of the child.

"Having a 12-year-old doing strength training is working against the child's natural development. That is an age for working on coordination and speed, which are best improved by a variety of activities rather than one specialized activity," McHugh said. "Additionally, the rigid application of rules and regimens at an early age suppresses natural creativity. For the 5- to 12-year-old, free play is essential for stimulating creativity."

More information

For more on preventing sports injuries in kids, visit the Nemours Foundation.

SOURCES: Richard Schultz, assistant professor, surgery, Texas A&M Health Science Center, and chief of staff, Scott & White University Medical Campus at Round Rock; Malachy McHugh, Ph.D.. director, research, Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Feb. 16, 2007, presentation, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgery annual meeting, San Diego

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