We've all heard the old "no pain, no gain" mantra about sports and exercise. But what about when it comes to your kids? Sports-related injuries are common in active children. The most serious injury to a child, however, may not be the result of a fall or collision. It may come from overuse.
Overuse injuries are indirect but harmful ailments that arise from the repetitive use of a joint, such as the knee, elbow, or shoulder, says Gail Chorney, MD, of the Hospital for Joint Diseases at NYU's Langone Medical Center. Dr. Chorney, who specializes in pediatric orthopaedic surgery, says she commonly sees overuse injuries in children who participate in sports like gymnastics, baseball, and softball, where the child does the same type of movement over and over, like pitching. When left untreated, these injuries can result in serious long-term effects on the child's health, such as chronic pain, abnormal joints, and even early arthritis.
When your child should be evaluated:
Dr. Chorney advises parents to have their child evaluated by a physician whenever he experiences pain during activities. Although the cause may be simple growing pains, she says, there is a chance the child could be suffering something more serious. Therefore, a child should see a doctor when:
- He experiences chronic pain during physical activity
- An otherwise unexplained change in the child's performance occurs
- She identifies a change in the type, intensity, severity, or frequency of pain during physical activity
- The child experiences chronic swelling in a joint unrelated to a direct trauma, such as a fall
- A coach or parent notices the child limping or otherwise changing her bearing during physical activity
How to help avoid sports-related injuries:
Dr. Chorney advises parents to know their child's limitations. Children aren't miniature adults - they're still growing, which makes them more fragile. She recommends that:
- Children should focus on learning the skill of a sport rather than endurance training, because they are physically weaker than adults
- Children should use required protective equipment at all times
- Children should be taught respect for the rules of a game, as these rules are enforced to keep players safe. Illegal moves, such as improper tackling techniques in football, have a high potential to result in serious injury.
For more information on sports-related injuries and their treatment in children and adolescents, visit the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases' Center for Children.