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The Great Race to Nowhere But Injury and Inactivity

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The Great Race to Nowhere But Injury and Inactivity

Overuse Injuries Are Becoming an Epidemic

Spring marks the beginning of the sports season for some athletes; for others, it marks the end. Yet for one of hockey’s most recognized players, the end of the season was always his favorite time.

“I used to love this time of year,” says Wayne Gretzy. “It was when I put my hockey equipment away and I was absolutely ecstatic to see the end of the hockey season. One of the worst things to happen to the game, has been year-round hockey.”

Why was Gretzy – quoted in Active for Life, a parental resource promoting healthy, happy kids – relieved? Perhaps he already knew what many more now understand: overuse injuries can result in burnout, disinterest, and the inevitable cessation of playing sports.

“When a young athlete experiences burnout from chronic stress, they no longer enjoy the sport,” says Dr. James P. Sostak, a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon at Fox Valley Orthopedics. “They stop participating because it’s no longer fun.”

This leads to a loss of focus and a dwindling commitment to the maintenance activities that help prevent injury.

Overuse in sports has become an epidemic. Statistics show that 7 out of 10 children stop participating by the time they are 13 years of age. Why is this happening? Dr. Sostak and others believe there is too much emphasis on success and winning over actual skill development.

“The number one reason kids play sports is to have fun,” says Sostak. “Winning doesn’t even rate in the top 10.”

But this fact seems to have been forgotten in the push to make it onto elite travel teams, or to secure college scholarships and professional contracts. Yet the trend toward early training, frequent competition, and single-sport specialization is actually ‘The Great Race to Nowhere’ since all the pushing and shoving to make it really just turns kids off…or worse, results in overuse injuries.

There are two types of sports injuries: single-event and overuse. The more common of the two, overuse injuries are underreported; they are subtle and occur over time as a result of repetitive overloading of the musculoskeletal system, especially when adequate rest is not undertaken.

Children undergo growth and development at individual rates, and it’s not always chronologic. Adolescents are most at risk for injury during peak growth spurts. Their cartilage – in a rapid state of growth – is less resistant to force, and at an increased risk of injury compared to mature or immature tissue.

Tips from Fox Valley Orthopedics’ Sports Medicine Team on how to help young athletes avoid overuse injuries:

  • Encourage an emphasis on skill development over competition and winning.
  • Carefully monitor workload during an adolescent’s growth spurts.
  • Limit weekly, monthly, and yearly participation time.
  • Involve young athletes in pre-season, non-sport-specific conditioning programs that focus on endurance, plyometrics, and resistance training.
  • Implement alternating workout schedules. (hard/easy)…sufficient recovery time is key as it fosters adaptation.
  • Encourage cross training.

If there is an injury, implement a treatment regimen that involves…

  • Properly icing injuries
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), as needed
  • Rest
  • Reduced workout intensity
  • Cross training
  • Introducing proper techniques, learned from a coach or athletic trainer
  • Adequate pre and post warm-ups