Dr. Frenda Williams, DDS
A question that crosses every parent’s mind, especially if their child is involved in any organized sports is, ‘will my son or daughter get injured playing? And because my child is young and still growing, is there any way for me to lessen the severity of a potential injury. Well, common sense says that any child that engages in physical activity whether it’s an organized sport or just ‘street’ play, runs the risk of injury. Those injuries could range from minor cuts and scrapes to more serious injuries like fractures, contusions or concussions. With that being said we can now address the question; are children more susceptible to sports injuries than adults? The answer to that question is yes. But, the reasons may be a bit different than what you may think.
First, sports for youth have become far more competitive than they were in the past. Daniel Gould, PhD director of the Institute for the Study of Sports at Michigan State University states “What we’re seeing is the professionalization of youth sports” (1). What he means is that youth sports have taken on a more professional organizational style and competitive edge. As a result, sports teams/clubs can be seen actively scouting and recruiting athletes as well as asking for individual contractual commitments to that organization. The intensity and pressure to win has pushed coaches, trainers and organizations to train young athletes harder, farther and faster both mentally and physically. The results are an increase in the number of sports injuries that require hospital based emergency treatment.
Second, it is estimated that 45 million children engage in scholastic and organized sports in the United States annually (3) with 750,000 reported sports related injuries. The most common cause of these sports related injuries occur due to overuse injuries which is defined as training that exceeds physiologic ability with an over emphasis on the conditioning of a particular muscle group. In other words instead of young athletes conditioning their muscles through participation in multiple sports, there is now a trend for them to continuously target and train those muscle groups that will best increase their performance in a specific sport. As a result of repetitive stress from throwing, swimming, running or serving, the involved muscles and tendons respond and adapt by getting stronger. However, without adequate rest and a short recovery time, the same repetitive stresses can result in injury. Former NBA player Bob Bigelow states, “this new world has one overriding belief system: Getting better means training younger, training harder, training more” (2).
Finally, youth are physiologically more prone to injuries than adults, due to the fact that children have growth plates. What exactly are growth plates? Growth plates are the soft cartilage near the ends of long bones in the arms and legs. This area is responsible for bone growth in children and is particularly vulnerable to fractures and breaks. These growth plates are directly involved in the growth pattern of our children. As a result, it is important to understand that the act of growing makes some children more awkward, clumsy and accident prone. In addition, growth patterns in young athletes can also decrease flexibility and increases muscle tightness. All of these factors increase a child’s vulnerability to injury.
In conclusion, sports are a wonderful means to not only promote healthy growth in our children but also provide a means to teach our children basic values such as commitment, comradery and fairness. And as parents, coaches and trainers it remains our duty to create a healthy environment in which competitive play can occur. As a result, there are some basic rules we should follow:
By keeping these simple general rules in mind, parents, coaches and trainers help to create a health and safety environment for our young athletes to do their best, have fun and to shine.