When your son or daughter goes through what is commonly called a “growth spurt,” he or she could be more vulnerable to sports injuries if precautions are not taken. That’s because a child’s bone growth usually outpaces similar development in the ligaments and tendons that serve as connective tissues for the joints.
Ligaments and tendons take longer “so our bones grow longer, but the rubber bands that are stuck to it, the muscles and tendons, get tighter until they catch up,” explains Roger Saldana, M.D. , pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute.
Kids active in sports are vulnerable to injuries — particularly those with a focus on one activity, such as gymnastics, without proper training.
During growth spurts, “growth plates” develop. These are areas of new bone growth in children and teens made up of cartilage, the rubbery material most obviously found in the nose. Overuse injuries, also known as “repetitive stress injuries” can affect the growth plate in kids and teens. “This combined with the tightness can cause growth plate injuries or other injuries associated with rapid growth,” said Dr. Saldana.
Young gymnasts are especially vulnerable to growth plate injuries to the wrist from handstands, cartwheels, tumbling and landing hard on their arms. They’re spines are also at risk.
“Gymnasts who are doing a lot of extensions to their back can hurt areas of growth in their spine,” said Dr. Saldana.
In track and field athletes, the knees are especially vulnerable.
“Athletes doing a lot of running or jumping can hurt cartilage areas in their knees and cause pain in the front of their knees,” Dr. Saldana said. “So. we see some sports are causing a bit more than others depending on the patient’s age and how long they’re doing the sport.”
Osgood-Schlatter disease affects children going through growth spurts. Kids who regularly run and jump are most at risk They experience pain at the front of the knee from inflammation of the growth plate at the upper end of the shinbone. “We see more Osgood-Schlatter disease in boys than girls, especially in boys that play basketball or run track,” Saldana said.
Injury prevention is becoming a more vital part of sports medicine, Saldana said. Neuromuscular training can help improve functionality when jumping and landing to help minimize injuries. Neuromuscular training focuses on skill-related fitness, such as agility, reaction time, coordination, power, speed and balance. Such programs can also maximize neural development during adolescence.
“We also know, at least anecdotally, that maintaining flexibility decreases the incidence and at least improves the symptoms from things like runner’s knee and Osgood-Schlatter’s,” said Dr. Saldana.