How Young Athletes can Prevent Sports Injuries

Whatever happened to playing just for fun? That’s the rhetorical question sports medicine doctors sometimes ask when they see young athletes with sports injuries.

In today’s competitive world of youth sports, many kids end up injured or burned out before high school. The problem is even more acute in South Florida, land of the year-round sports season.

“The old adage ‘no pain, no gain’ is not necessarily true, particularly with the developing body,” said Gautam Yagnik, M.D., a specialist with the Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Doctors Hospital, who sees patients at West Kendall Baptist Hospital.

Let’s take a look at some statistics about youth and sports in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Nearly 38 million youths participate in organized sports.
  • Each year, more than 3.5 million children under age 14 seek medical treatment for sports injuries.
  • Two million injuries occur annually among high school athletes, leading to 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations.
  • The rate and severity of injury tend to increase with age.
  • Overuse injuries account for nearly half of middle and high school sports injuries.
  • According to the CDC, more than half of all sports injuries are preventable.
  • It’s the last two statistics that most concern Dr. Yagnik and his colleagues. They work with high school athletic trainers and coaches to prevent injuries, including those from overuse and lack of proper rest and conditioning. “We’re very interested in education and training,” Dr. Yagnik said.

    Here are some of their tips for young athletes and parents:

  • Avoid the “too’s”: too much, too soon, too fast. Sports for young kids should be about participation, not competition that stresses winning. It’s the competitive philosophy that can endanger preadolescents, who are not physically or emotionally equipped for such stress.
  • Participate in more than one sport. This helps prevent one or more muscle groups from overuse and helps maintain a well-rounded focus. “Everybody used to play different sports and there was a good reason for that,” Dr. Yagnik said.
  • Rest, cross-train and listen to your body. Even if you only do one sport, take a season off so you aren’t competing year-round. Cross-training improves fitness and avoids overuse, both of which can lower the risk of injury.
  • Begin specific conditioning six to eight weeks before playing high-intensity sports such as basketball, football, soccer and baseball. Strength training and fitness can greatly reduce the incidence of injuries.
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