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Preventing Overuse Injuries in Children

Athletic seasons are lasting longer than ever, with athletes often practicing all year long for one sport. The increasing desire to succeed at higher-levels of competition has caused coaches to often over-train their coaches. As a result, overuse injuries have become common, especially in growing children and adolescents. Studies, reported in the Strength and Conditioning Journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, have shown that between 30% and 60% of injuries in children is the result of overuse, which occurs when an individual undergoes repetitive stress, followed by insufficient rest.

When the body is presented with too much stress and too little recovery time, it becomes weaker instead of stronger. Stress fractures, tennis elbow, osteochondroses, and Little League elbow are all overuse injuries. Children are especially vulnerable because body weight, height, and muscle mass are constantly changing. Fortunately, the American College of Sports Medicine has suggested that about 50% of overuse injuries can be prevented.

The most common injury prevention technique used in sport activity is the warm-up. Muscles that are stimulated before strenuous activity are more resistant to muscle tears and have improved speed of muscle contraction and relaxation. Warm-ups also enhance metabolism by raising temperature of muscle tissue and allowing an increase in blood flow to the muscle.

Coaches should strive to organize practices to reduce overuse injury while improving overall performance. They should inquire about soreness, performance, lethargy, and boredom on a regular basis. Conventionally, practices involve repeated drills of the same activity, but this is a pathway for overuse injuries. A varied practice with optimal rest periods will allow for less fatigue and greater learning effects. Workouts should also progress gradually in volume and intensity. Programs that advance too quickly will result in frequent athletic injuries.

The goal of the practice should be to refine appropriate techniques and to increase fitness, but it is possible to over train. You should always make sure to get adequate rest and realize your physical limits. With proper training and adequate recovery time, you will enhance athletic performance and avoid season ending injuries.

Written by Ryan Serrano with Eric Sternlicht, Ph.D. Department of Kinesiology, Occidental College, Los Angeles CA.