By Sally Robinson and Keith Bly
Chances are you or someone you know has children involved in an array of recreational activities. Swim team, Little League, ballet, soccer and a host of other sports keeps parents running from field to field after work and on the weekend. Burned out? We bet. Now, just picture what all that activity can mean for muscles, joints and tendons in your little star athlete.
We’ve heard it forever: Exercise keeps you healthy. But, too much can offset the healthy benefits of activity. A recent clinical report in the journal Pediatrics suggests some guidelines to keep burnout at a minimum.
First, though, a little bit about what is commonly referred to as overuse injuries. As its name suggests, these injuries occur from repetitive movement. Think along the lines of your star pitcher winding up his arm to beam that fast pitch against his opponent. It can affect the muscles, nerves, joints and other tissue.
Some have their own names. Little Leaguers’ elbow or shoulder, shin splints and jumper’s knee are some examples. Depending on the sport, your child could suffer from one or more of these injuries.
As recreational sports and intramural teams have exploded in popularity, so have these types of injures. About 30 million to 45 million youths ages 6 to 18 participate in some sort of sport. Sadly, pediatric sports medicine is a growing area of medicine. Four years ago, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported more than 3.5 million related injuries in children younger than 15.
Overtraining causes burnout and, at times, parental and coaching pressures can cause overtraining. To help inform and educate moms, dads and athletic directors, here are some key tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
• Make sure your child rests and takes time off every week; one to two days should be plenty.
• Training goals, like number of repetitions or time spent training, should increase by no more than 10 percent from week to week.
• Give your child the chance to take some time off from his sport from two to three months each year.
• Limit your child’s sports involvement to one team per season.
• Stay alert to your child’s health. Complaints of muscular or joint pain, fatigue or nonspecific muscular pain should be addressed.
If you’re a parent, take cues from your child on whether she’s enjoying the sport. Encourage team building and good sportsmanship over winning. Keep in mind, children who specialize in one sport before puberty tend to burnout and suffer injuries more than children who participate in a variety of activities.
Remember, focus on making sports fun. Encourage safe, smart, moderate activity. If your child complains of an overuse injury, the acronym RICE should help you remember how to treat the early stages – rest, ice, compression and elevation. If the injury or pain persists, don’t wait. See your child’s doctor immediately.
Now, go out there and have fun.
Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Children’s Hospital and Keith Bly is an assistant professor of pediatrics in the UTMB Children’s Emergency Room. This column is not intended to replace the advice of a physician.