More pencils. More books. More teacher’s dirty looks. Sorry kids – school is back in session.
But maybe you aren’t a student who amuses themself by reading foot care blogs. Perhaps you are the parent of a student instead. And if that is the case, then you are probably the parent of a child who participates in school sports.
As the parent of a student athlete, you take satisfaction knowing that sports are helping your kid build character, make friends and avoid drugs. But you also might worry whether all that strenuous activity may be damaging to your child’s health. It’s not an unfounded fear. Over 3.5 million kids under the age of 15 suffer some kind of sports injury each year in the United States!
Not all of those injuries are as dramatic as you might imagine. Overuse injuries, which occur when soft tissue is damaged due to sustained, repetitive demand over an extended period of time, account for almost half of the sports injuries sustained by middle and high school students.
Why Are Student Athletes Prone to Overuse Injuries?
Overuse (or repetitive stress) injuries, which typically cause inflammation, muscle strain and tissue damage, are especially common among student athletes. Children are more susceptible to overuse injuries due to their growing bones and unevenly matured bodies. In some cases they are unable to detect (or apathetic toward) early warning signs of injury such as pain, fatigue and discomfort.
Student athletes are also more vulnerable to overuse injuries because they are likely to play a single sport year-round. The prevalent attitude that children are more vital than adults also inclines coaches to make them work harder than they reasonably should. Finally, many children begin playing sports without undergoing proper physical conditioning first. Their bodies just aren’t prepared for the intense strain that lies ahead!
What Kinds of Overuse Injuries Can Student Athletes Get?
Very many, unfortunately. Bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, epicondylitis (or tennis elbow), Osgood-Schlatter disease, patellofemoral syndrome, shin splints, stress fractures and tendonitis are all common among student athletes.
Different overuse injuries can be characterized by vastly different symptoms. That said, many share common telltale signs including numbness, tingling, soreness, stiffness, and weakness in the extremities. If your young athlete complains of any of those sensations, play it safe and take them to see their primary care physician.
How Can You Prevent Overuse Injuries?
No one is immune to overuse injuries – but anyone can take steps to avoid them.
- Limit the amount of time your child spends exercising and playing sports. As a general rule, children should limit practicing and playing sports to one hour per week for every year of age. That means an 8-year-old can safely play eight hours per week; a 16-year-old, 16 hours.
- Teach your child the correct techniques for the sports they are playing. Techniques aren’t just correct when they increase the likelihood of victory. They also place minimal strain on the athlete’s tendons, ligaments and muscles. If you notice your child exhibiting showy, inefficient or otherwise incorrect techniques while at play, interpret that as an opportunity to teach them an important lesson in their preferred mode of athleticism.
- Encourage your child to gradually work toward their athletic goals. Enthusiasm is both a blessing and a curse. It is why many children single-mindedly commit themselves to mastering a certain element of their favorite sport – even at the risk of injury. If your child is spending all of their time working on their pitching, applaud them for it, but also remind them that there’s no guarantee the National League will always allow pitchers to have designated hitters.
- Force your child to rest. Children do recover from high-intensity exercise more quickly than adults – but that doesn’t mean they can do without rest. When your child appears to be tired or sore, don’t expect them to become stronger by powering through it. Remind them that even a pro uses an entire off season to recharge their batteries.
- Seek immediate treatment for your child if they show symptoms of overuse injuries. If your child is already complaining of tingling, numbness, pain, stiffness, or soreness – or if they appear to be more lethargic than usual – don’t let inaction hinder their chances of making a full recovery. Take them to the doctor to get them checked out. They may have to take a break from physical activity for a little while, but they’ll only enjoy a greater chance of continuing to enjoy their favorite sport because of it.
If your student athlete is complaining of pain in their feet or ankles, then we welcome you to contact Twin Cities Foot & Ankle Clinic in Golden Valley, MN today. Our podiatrists are standing by to help keep aspiring athletes healthy and happy!