The Winter Olympics were an exciting time for the world and for many of our adolescents as they watched young athletes compete for medals. Many youth may try to reach that level of performance and as physicians it is important to remember that we are a key part in their success.
Young athletes have the ability to push their bodies, to quickly grow muscles, and to improve their speed, however injury can also derail a promising athletic career.
Dr. Patrick Kane, orthopaedic surgeon with Premier Orthopaedic Bone & Joint Care, an affiliate of Beebe's, has worked with many young athletes, including those on the U.S. Olympic Ski and Snowboard teams. Here are his tips for helping your young patients prevent and recover from injury and get back to the game they love.
Q: What are some of the most preventable injuries adolescents might face and how can we help our patients avoid them?
A: From fighting childhood obesity to the development of leadership and team-building skills, adolescent sports participation provides kids with an incredibly wide range of benefits. Unfortunately, however, injuries do occur. Some injuries are difficult to prevent and come as an inherent risk in sports participation. Other injuries, particularly injuries related to overuse, can be prevented.
Q: What trends do you see among young patients?
A: An alarming trend in youth sports participation in America is the concept of single-sport specialization, which now represents an almost $9 billion industry. Pressure for athletic excellence and the potential for scholarships have caused many athletes to focus athletic participation on one sport. Instead of kids “cross training” and participating as multisport athletes, many adolescents are focusing instead on one sport with year round participation on multiple travel teams with little or no rest.
A growing body of research has demonstrated that not only do single-sport athletes “burn out” and actually underperform athletically compared to multi-sport athletes, but single-sport athletes are also at a significantly higher risk of injury as well. Physiologic changes that occur during puberty put the adolescent athlete at an increased risk for overuse injuries, particularly in single-sport athletes. Participating in one sport year round means the same muscle groups are constantly worked and the same stresses placed on different joints or areas of the body are constantly seen.
Q: Why is it better for youth to vary the sports they play?
A: Participating in multiple sports allows adolescent athletes to “cross train” and use different muscle groups for different activities, allowing for a relative rest period from the specific demands placed on the body from the season before. Baseball, for example, is one sport that has seen a substantial number of single-sport athletes and has also demonstrated the consequences this can have on this population. It is not uncommon to see kids even as young as 10 years old to be on four to five travel teams with nearly year-long participation. The deleterious effects of this type of participation has been well documented as an alarmingly high increase in the number of shoulder and elbow injuries and even surgery in this age group has been well documented recently.
Q: What advice do you have for young athletes?
A: The old saying an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure really holds true when dealing with youth athletes. In an ideal world, my services as a surgeon would not be needed as injuries and the need for surgery could be prevented.
Our office is an official partner affiliated with the STOP (Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention, stopsportsinjuries.org) Sports Injury campaign. This multidisciplinary organization is a fantastic resource for athletes, parents, coaches, and even physicians. Their official website has a wide variety of online tools ranging from basic explanations of various injuries and conditions to a whole host of injury prevention programs, the most notable being a widely adopted pitch count recommendation for youth baseball players.