There can be no doubt that youth sports in the United States is a large industry and huge money maker. More and more we see teenagers, sometimes children as young as 4, and their parents traveling far and wide to participate in sporting events. With that injuries related to those sports increase as well.

What we sometimes fail to realize is that children, and even teenagers, are not smaller versions of adults. There are distinct differences that need to be taken into account when considering sports. Their bodies are not fully developed and a physical activity performed too much or too often can cause significant breakdown in tissue. Overuse injuries are the most common and include the following: stress fractures, tendinitis, bursitis, apophysitis and osteochondral injuries of the joint surface. These injuries are rarely seen in children who participate more in free play instead of youth athletics.

How and why are kids who play competitively more prone to these injuries? There are a number of reasons. One of the biggest – sport specialization. It isn’t uncommon to see kids specializing in one sport at an earlier age. In the past, kids would play a different sport with each season, allowing the use of different muscle and joint groups. With more kids choosing to focus all of their attention and efforts on one sport, overuse injuries are the norm now. Other reasons for youth sports injuries have more to do with anatomical malalignments or imbalances among muscles.

What can be done to reduce the amount of injuries being seen among our youth athletes? First, having your child screened for any strength imbalances or posture issues that might lead to injury down the road is recommended, especially for child athletes that are competing on a consistent basis. These imbalances or posture-related problems can be identified and corrected through physical therapy and other exercises, helping to significantly reduce the likelihood of injury. Second, know how to identify injury, whether it be a strain, sprain or something more serious like a concussion or fracture, and how to treat. Sometimes it may be as simple as applying heat or ice and elevating. However, other injuries can be more involved and threatening and should be evaluated by a licensed medical professional. Your physical therapist can also help identify and treat overuse conditions, as well as help your child recover from fractures, breaks, and more.

Other ways to help prevent injury are to ensure all of the proper equipment is being worn and worn correctly. Whether it is full pads and a helmet for football or shin guards for soccer, equipment is an important measure in helping to keep youth athletes safe. Along the same line, footwear is important. Making sure your child is wearing footwear that is appropriate for the sport he or she is playing and is fitted correctly can help cut down on ankle sprains and other foot related injuries.

In the end, youth sports do help keep our children active and engaged. Studies also show that kids who play sports do tend to do better academically and have more self-esteem than those who don’t play sports. But, as parents, our children’s safety and well-being must take priority and making sure we are informed and know how to respond is an important first step in doing so.

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