A 2014 study from from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine found that “Estimates of the proportion of all sports injuries that are due to overuse range from 45.9% to 54%.” This means that nearly 1/2 of all sports injuries are due to overuse! If you think it’s odd that a 10 year old could ever possibly overuse their throwing arm, the study hypothesized that these overuse injuries are due to the increasing pressure for young athletes to begin specializing at an earlier and earlier age. Many parents and coaches believe that early specialization is the key to putting a child on the path to an athletic scholarship, an Olympic team or the world of professional sports.
However, The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine points out in their executive summary that “Such an excessive focus on early intensive training and competition at young ages rather than skill development can lead to overuse injury and burnout.” Whether or not early specialization is the key to lifelong athletic success has yet to be definitely proven (plenty stories exist on both sides of the argument), but there is no denying that more and more kids are suffering from overuse injuries…and some of them are trying to play through the pain with no regard to the long term repercussions.
A new study recently published in “The American Journal of Sports Medicine” found that 46% of baseball players surveyed “reported at least once being encouraged to keep playing despite having arm pain.” Never mind how many kids don’t report their pain or injuries (out of fear for losing playing time), that means that coaches and parents are actively encouraging players to push through the pain! While playing with a skinned elbow or knee is no big deal, we need to teach our kids to listen to their bodies and know when they’ve pushed past the point of being tired or sore and are truly hurt. When certain overuse injuries, also known as “high risk,” are left unrecognized or are improperly treated it can stop a youth athlete’s career before it even begins! For instance, a bone stress fracture can heal with no long-term issues if an athlete is given proper rest and treatment. However, if left untreated for too long it can heal improperly and lead to chronic pain and degenerative joint disease. Can you imagine being 13 years old and told your baseball dreams are over because of Little League Elbow (LLE) syndrome?
Research published in 2013 found that “young athletes who played a single sport for more hours a week than years they were old — such as a 10-year-old who played 11 or more hours of soccer — were 70% more likely to experience serious overuse injuries.” As kids move from regular league teams to more high powered travel teams it’s not that outside of the realm of possibilities that a 10 year old could easily spend 10-15 hours a week playing baseball, especially if they also work with a personal trainer or coach outside of the regular practice hours. That puts them at risk for overuse injuries and burnout, no matter how much they may love to play, so we as parents and coaches need to pay attention. If they are in pain that doesn’t go away we have to stop telling them to push through it and make sure it’s not a more serious injury than we think.