When you think of sports injuries, traumatic collisions in physical games typically come to mind due to the high frequency and competitive nature. But many sports injuries don’t occur from a blow from a ball or an opponent, they happen slowly over time.
Stress builds over weeks and months, causing muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments to become worn. This wear and tear can cause fractures, strains, tears and other overuse injuries.
While these injuries can occur over a long period of time, it may only take as little as a couple of weeks depending on the intensity of the athlete’s training. Fortunately, these injuries can be avoided, but athletes have to take an active approach in taking care of their bodies.
Overuse injuries affect athletes of all ages - from those just starting out to those in their sixties. If you’re still active, you could have to deal with overuse injuries. So whether it’s your child athlete that you’re looking out for, or yourself, keep the below tips in mind.
Discourage children from specializing in one sport early on.
It’s common for athletes to grow up to be dedicated to one sport - spending all the off-seasons still working on their skills and practicing their game. Putting their time and energy into one sport allows them to dedicate themselves to the sport, and could lead to them playing in college or even professionally.
But as child athletes are growing up, specializing in one sport may be detrimental to their bodies and lead to overuse injuries before they even reach the age of 30. Their bodies are still developing, so their muscles and tendons are usually stronger than their bones, which can lead to overuse injuries.
This study found that adolescents who spend more hours per week than their age playing one sport are 70% more likely to suffer from overuse injuries than other injuries. This means, if a child who is 14 plays 15 hours per week of hockey, his overuse injury risk is increased. This study also states that kids who play one sport for eight months out of the year are nearly three times more likely to experience an overuse injury in their hip or knee.
Studies have shown that specializing early in a sport does increase their chances of becoming an elite athlete. According to this study, 88% of college athletes played more than one sport as children. In addition, 70% didn’t specialize until they were over twelve.
Make sure children are practicing the proper technique.
It’s common for younger athletes to perform improper technique as they’re beginning to learn a sport. Kicking a soccer ball, throwing a football, or swinging a lacrosse stick all require an appropriate technique in order to keep the body protected. If you’re finding that your child may be performing a sports action the wrong way, speak with his or her coach to help them learn.
A long, tough week of practice and strenuous games can be balanced out with a couple of days of rest at the end of the week. Longer periods of rest throughout the year are necessary. Athletes play certain sports year-round due to regular season plus club and intramural organizations. This is a great way to stay in shape, but try to take at least a week in between the end of one session and the start of another to ensure your joints and muscles have time to recover.
Pay attention to your body. If you’re cramping up, experiencing pain, or feeling off, there’s a reason for it and it needs to be addressed - whether that’s through rest or medical attention. Don’t ignore the symptoms of an overuse injury, as it can lead to a more painful injury or serious problem in the future. If you have a child athlete, make sure to explain to him or her the importance of communicating discomfort.
Use different equipment and vary workouts.
An overuse injury occurs when one body part, or several body parts working together, repeat the same motion over and over. This puts a lot of wear on the joints/ligaments/tendons, and could result in the wearing away of body materials.
One way to prevent these types of injuries is to exercise all different parts of the body rather than focusing on only the muscles you’ll be using for your sport. This way, you’ll have the opportunity to gain flexibility and strength in other areas of the body. These muscles will become more active and compensate when the body parts you use frequently get tired. This will make sure athletes are developing different muscle groups and give others the rest they need.
If you’re constantly using the same types of equipment - such as weights and other devices for exercising - switch it up to work different muscles. Alternate days you lift heavy weights with days you’re just concentrating on body weight.
Warm up, stretch, cool down.
Stretching helps you to increase range-of-motion and prepare for any type of activity. Slowly acclimate your muscles, tendons and ligaments for the exercise they’re about to guide your body through. It’s recommended that an athlete spends about 10-15 minutes going through a series of warm up exercises and stretching routines before engaging in rigorous activity.
And after your workout, it’s just as important to cool down. Walking for a few minutes after training helps to lower the body temperature at a gradual pace while allowing the rest of the body to decompress.
Overuse injuries are very common in athletes, but if you take the appropriate cautions for yourself or for your children, they can be prevented. If you’re dealing with a sports injury and want to speak with a doctor, or you’d like more information, visit our Sports Medicine page.