Participation in youth sports is increasingly popular, with many youngsters initiating year-around training. It is not uncommon today for preteens to train 20 or more hours each week in sports like gymnastics, or to compete in triathlons, or for children as young as 6 to play organised soccer or hockey.
Engaging in sports activities at a young age has numerous health benefits, but also involves risk of injury. Indeed, the young athlete may be particularly vulnerable to sport injury due to the physical and physiological processes of growth.
Injury risk factors that are unique to the young athlete include an immature skeleton, the non-linearity of growth, and adolescent growth spurts. Additionally young athletes might be at increased risk of injury due to underdeveloped coordination skills and psychological issues. Although problems do no ordinarily rise at normal levels of activity, the more frequent and intense training and competition of young athletes today may create conditions under which injuries occur.
One of the features of a child’s skeleton is the existence of growth zones, known as growth plates. Growth plates are present at the end of long bones, and at sites of muscle attachments. During growth spurts, it is extremely common for adolescents to complain of ‘growing pain’, especially if they are involved in sports that require jumping and running. Growing pain is painful inflammation of the bone/growth plate at the site of a muscle attachment. It is paramount that during periods of growth spurts, children are protected from overload, and growth associated issues such as Osgood-Schlatters, Severs Disease, and Patello-femoral Joint overload.
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