By Dr. Jeff Remsburg
Over the past 10 to 15 years, there has been a large increase in the occurrence of injuries to young athletes. Shoulder and elbow injuries are up 500% percent in baseball and softball players, while anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries have increased 400 percent. There are numerous other examples for all sports. It’s obvious that there’s a problem here, so the purpose of today’s article is to identify the cause of the increased injuries and talk about prevention.
The single biggest cause of the increase in youth injuries is year-round participation in a single sport. Fifteen years ago, middle- and high-school athletes all played multiple sports. Basically, young athletes were cross-training year round, which is ideal for preventing injuries. Today, many athletes (and/or their parents) want to specialize and focus on one sport. A young female athlete may play soccer in both the fall and spring, and have multiple camps and training leagues throughout the year. A minor muscle imbalances or dysfunction is now much more likely to lead to an overuse injury or even an ACL tear.
For prevention, it’s easy to tell a young athlete to play multiple sports. However, it may be difficult to implement. Many young athletes love one single sport and have no desire to play other sports. In these instances, it’s important to work with coaches and/or trainers to prevent overtraining. Leading the way in this area is Little League Baseball’s rules for pitchers, which limit the number of daily pitches and set mandatory rest periods between games. Hopefully, guidelines like this will be adopted for multiple sports.
Another key to prevention is trying to identify potential injuries before they happen. In our office, we have various functional screens to identify muscle imbalances or movement dysfunctions. This allows us to identify a pitcher who is at risk for a labrum tear or find a basketball player at risk for an ACL tear. Once we identify these at-risk athletes, we can prescribe simple home exercises and/or stretches to correct these problems.
The last point is to address any injury as soon as it happens. Athletes are notorious for playing through pain. Favoring a pain-free ankle, for example, will place additional stress at the knee and hip, which could lead to more injuries. Luckily, young athletes typically respond to treatment more rapidly than their parents, so they’re often pain free after only a few visits.
Here’s to all athletes having a rewarding and injury free summer!