2 girls exercise Any parent of a child involved in organized sports will tell you about the rigorous schedules of practices and games, the emotional highs and disappointing lows. But what parents might not know about is the risk of overuse injuries.

What are overuse injuries and who's at risk?

An overuse injury is damage to the bone, muscle, ligament or tendon due to repeated stress and insufficient healing time. Tendonitis, bursitis and stress fractures are some examples of overuse injuries.

Children and teens are especially vulnerable to overuse injuries because their bones are still growing. Younger athletes also might not know what an overuse injury feels like, and, therefore, are less likely to stop the activity causing the problem.

Studies have found that young athletes who play more hours per week than their age — for instance, a 10-year-old who plays more than 10 hours a week — are more likely to be injured. Young athletes whose time playing organized sports is twice that of free play are also more likely to suffer from overuse injuries.

How to keep your child injury free

If your child plays sports, here are a few guidelines you should follow to help keep him injury free.

  • Keep fit. Athletes should be in good physical condition before starting a sport. Make sure your child gets a sports physical and follows any recommendations from her doctor.
  • Stay stretched. Make sure your child does a proper warm up, such as muscle stretching and exercises like jumping jacks or light jogging. Your child should also cool down after practices and games with more stretching.
  • Add variety. Before puberty, children should try a lot of different sports instead of focusing on just one.
  • One season, one sport. You should keep your child playing only one sport per season. Practices should not be more than five times per week.
  • Rest to recover. Make sure your child takes days off from the sport — at least once a week, preferably twice a week — to recover both physically and mentally. If playing one specific sport, your child should take off two to three months per year. The rest period doesn’t have to be consecutive, such as one month off every six months.
  • Cross train. Athletes should vary which muscles they use, such as varying endurance workouts with activities like swimming, yoga or biking.
  • Keep it fun. If your child no longer gets enjoyment out of the sport, it might be time to take a break. All sports have their frustrating moments, but when they cease to be fun, it’s time to re-evaluate.
  • Listen to body cues. Teach your child to listen to her body and be aware if something is bothering her. If she is having chronic pain or difficulty, it is time to see a doctor.

Contributed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello Jr., MD

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