By Niesha Lofing, McClatchy Newspapers
Summer would seem like the perfect time of year for young athletes to relax, but some view it as an opportunity to practice and play sports without time constraints.
Doctors warn it’s also the season when overtraining injuries tend to spike.
Overuse injuries and burnout are growing problems among the estimated 30 million to 45 million athletes ages 6 to 18, according to a clinical report published in 2007 in the journal Pediatrics.
Up to 50 percent of injuries seen by pediatric sports medicine doctors are related to overuse, the report states.
Children who play the same sport year-round often suffer repetitive motion injuries, said Dr. Stephen Howell, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Methodist Hospital, Sacramento.
“There’s never a down season for a particular joint,” he said.
“I think it’s more common because you have kids playing on a junior high or high school team, and they’re also playing on club teams. That’s a lot of games, a lot of practices.”
The most frequent prescription for overuse injuries is something an ambitious athlete likely won’t want to hear — rest.
“They need to avoid all aspects of training, and sometimes that’s a very difficult decision,” Howell said.
The physical effects of overtraining are only part of the problem, however. Young athletes also are at risk of developing burnout, said Dr. Matthew Hay, a pediatrician with the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
“Severe burnout in children looks exactly like depression,” he said.
Symptoms include fatigue, nonspecific pain for more than two weeks and poor academic performance.
Burnout often arises because parents put unnecessary pressure on a child. The parents envision their child getting a scholarship or making a professional or Olympic team.
That goal is unrealistic for a majority of child and teen athletes, since fewer than 1 percent of high school athletes eventually make the pros, the Pediatrics clinical report states.
Given that statistic, parents of young athletes should instead encourage their kids to enjoy their sport without pushing them to unrealistic limits, Hay said.
“The whole point of sports is to have fun,” he said.
Here are some tips for parents based on recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Make sure your child takes at least one to two days off from competitive games, practice and training each week.
- Encourage them to vary the sports. Using different muscle groups will help prevent overtraining injuries and burnout.
- Training goals such as repetitions and distance should not increase by more than 10 percent per week.
- The child should take at least two to three months off from a sport each year.
- Limit the athlete’s sports involvement to one team per season.