Moms Columns & Blogs

Small kids, big injuries

Written by Christian Clark, M.D. of OrthoCarolina

As parents, we want nothing more for our children than to learn that dedication and hard work will lead to success. We strive to give them every opportunity to learn, laugh, experience and play. And yes, sometimes we push them, hoping somewhere along the way it will ignite a passion for something they love doing.

I know this because I too am a parent.

Most of us are similar when it comes to parenting our young athletes. We cheer loudly from the sideline, urge them to not give up, and stress the importance of trying our best. Our kids love sports and we love watching them. We know participation in sports will promote good lifelong exercise habits and help with the physical and mental health of our children.

As they get older, some children may excel in one particular sport and gravitate towards it. The opportunities in Charlotte allow young athletes to sub-specialize in a specific sport at a very young age. Many children will decide on their “sport” and begin participation in only that sport, year round, before they even reach middle school. It is not unusual in today’s world for young athletes to play a single sport year round, often even playing on two teams at the same time.

A story on ABC News last week ( click here for the story) spotlighted the rising phenomenon of children getting injuries typically seen in adults; in particular ACL tears. Overuse injuries in children, like adults, happen over time when the athlete stresses certain muscles or joints during their sport without scheduling recovery time between athletic activities. Children who play one sport, without appropriate rest periods, are more at risk for not only over-use problems, but also more significant injuries to include fractures and ligament tears.

While more boys sustain ACL injuries, young girls have been noted to be six times more likely to suffer an ACL injury per season, because of their anatomy and muscle strength. Several studies have suggested that if a young girl plays year round basketball or soccer, one player on her team each year will have an significant ligament injury.

ABC News highlighted the PEP program, which has been shown to reduce the risk of ACL injuries by almost 75% in young, female athletes. I frequently recommend the PEP program, which was created by the Santa Monica Sports Foundation. It is a very straight-forward exercise program that can be done withthe team or by yourself and doesn’t require any special equipment. Even better, they have it posted on their website and it's free. (click here to see the program)

Young athletes are still developing, especially physically, and overdoing any sport can hurt their growth and long-term health. Though we all know the value of sports, we need to also remember, just like so many things in life, too much of a good thing can be detrimental. I have tried to stress to my patients who are young athletes, they need an “off season” the same as any professional athlete.

Above all, kids should listen to their bodies, and know that sometimes it’s okay to take a break.

Dr. Christian Clark is a pediatric surgeon with OrthoCarolina who is fellowship-trained, with clinical specialties in Pediatric Orthopedics and Pediatric Sports Medicine. He and his wife are the parents of two young children.