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Health Tips for Parents

2009 Issues

How much is too much with sports?


According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), 30 to 45 million children, ages 6-18 years, participate in some form of athletics.

While organized sports offer a positive way to keep children healthy, help them set personal goals and make friends, parents should be aware that too much of a good thing can result in injury to growing bodies. According to John DiFiori, M.D., chief of the Division of Sports Medicine in the UCLA Department of Family Medicine, injuries caused by overuse are increasingly common and could pose long-term effects later in life.

Overuse injuries Most sports injuries in children are not broken bones, but rather chronic injuries caused by overuse. Repetitive movements may overload the still developing musculoskeletal system and can result in injury to joints and soft tissues, including the growth centers in bones. For example, sports involving throwing can cause overuse injuries to the growth centers of the shoulder and elbow, whereas running and jumping sports can cause knee injuries related to overuse. Because of the nature of their sport, gymnasts are susceptible to injuries that can involve the growth plates of the wrist.

Overuse injuries result from constant training. “Many children participate in one sport on a year-round basis,” Dr. DiFiori notes. In mild climates like California, for example, baseball and softball are no longer just played in the spring. Children now can participate in year-round leagues, and often add to that with baseball or softball camps and private instruction.

When injured, the child, together with his or her parents, coaches and physician, should identify the cause. To avoid further injury, a change in activity pattern, modification of sport technique and/or the introduction of other forms of activity may be recommended.

When burnout occurs

“Taking regular breaks from sports may have positive psychological and physiological benefits for children,” Dr. DiFiori says.
“It is unfortunately not uncommon to see youngsters give up a sport, sometimes even prior to adolescence, simply because they are burned out. Periods of rest and the chance to experiment with other sports and activities help to maintain motivation and to give the children the opportunity to eventually match their interests and abilities.”

Playing safe

To help avoid overuse injuries:

  • Limit training to no more than five days per week. 
  • Take at least two months off from the sport per year.
  • Multi-sport athletes who use the same body parts for different sports need to take a break between seasons.
  • When recovering from an overuse injury:
  • Follow a physician’s instructions before resuming physical activity in order for injuries to properly heal.
  • Work on strength training to help avoid future injuries.
  • Activity should not increase by more than 10% weekly.

This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. UCLA Health pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and West Los Angeles.

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