Youth Sports: A “How To” Guide on Keeping Your Athlete on the Field and Enjoying the Sport – Part 3
This Youth Sports Article was Written By Request Physical Therapy
Welcome! This will be the last piece of this series focusing on youth sports participation and its associated injuries. In this article, a few common overuse injuries will be introduced along with information about which athletes are particularly at risk, as well as signs of these injuries to look for in your athlete. This guide should not be used to diagnose anyone with any type of injury, but can help steer you (as the parents of these athletes) in the right direction for medical care and expertise when your child comes home from practice in pain.
Acute injuries will be omitted from this collection of injuries as they are beyond the scope of the series. One important thing to remember while reading about these injuries is that they are all overuse injuries, meaning if your athlete begins to develop one, it will likely come on gradually, so monitoring your athlete carefully each week is key in the prevention of these types of sports injuries.
Little League Elbow
AFFECTED ATHLETES: As the name implies, little league elbow (also known as Medial Epicondyle Apophysitis) affects baseball pitchers as well as all other athletes that perform repeated overhead throwing motions. Typically this injury occurs in athletes between the ages of 11 and 14.
- Pain while throwing on the inside of the elbow
- The elbow may be swollen.
MECHANISM: Pain associated with this injury is due to the widening of the medial condyle apophysis which is caused by the repetitive traction caused by overhead throwing. Figure 1 above shows the anatomy behind this injury, as you can see the area around the medial epicondyle is inflamed.
RISK FACTORS: Little league elbow can be prevented by knowing the risk factors of the injury. As previously mentioned, little league elbow is an overuse injury so it should come as no surprise to the reader that all of the risk factors that are associated with this injury are due to overuse. These risk factors include:
- Playing on more than one team
- Playing through fatigue
- having poor throwing mechanics.
- Weaknesses in the shoulders, core and lower extremities
TREATMENT: Athletes who develop little league elbow can expect to take around 4 to 6 weeks off from throwing although it may take some athletes 3-4 months to recover fully or even require surgical intervention. Physical therapy can be implemented to correct the weaknesses mentioned above and to help the athlete avoid future injuries.
AFFECTED ATHLETES: This overuse affects athletes ages 9 to 13 that participate in sports that involve running.
SYMPTOMS: heel pain present in one or both heels during activity.
MECHANISM: The pain associated with Sever’s disease is caused by traction of the Achilles tendon on the calcaneus. This traction primarily occurs during the growing years and becomes more symptomatic during growth spurts.
- Tight calf muscles
- Flat or pronated feet
- Weak gluteal muscles
- Poor lower extremity alignment (knock knees)
TREATMENT: The best treatment options for this injury include adding a soft gel heel cup to your sneakers, wearing supportive sneakers that are correct for your foot mechanics, and using physical therapy to address muscle imbalances such as weak hips, weak intrinsic muscles in the feet and tight calves and hamstrings.
AFFECTED ATHLETES: This overuse injury affects athletes between the ages of 11 and 14, and has a higher prevalence in athletes who are going through a growth spurt.
- Pain in the front of the knee with activities like running, jumping and landing.
- Painful bump present at the front of the knee directly below the knee cap.
MECHANISM: During growth, it is believed that the femur grows faster than the quadriceps muscle. The patellar tendon that attaches to the Tibia is stretched during growth spurts and repetitive traction at the site of insertion will cause inflammation, irritation and pain. As the body attempts to repair this avulsion site, a chronic inflammatory is activated which can lead to the painful bump associated with this injury.
- A recent growth spurt
- The sport played – this tends to occur in athletes involved heavily with running, jumping or changing direction
- Decreased flexibility in the quads and hip flexors
- Muscle imbalances such as weak gluteal muscles and weak hamstrings
TREATMENT: The best treatment is resting from jumping activities, quad and hip flexor muscle stretching and physical therapy to address muscle imbalances and weakness. Unresolved cases of this overuse injury can lead to a condition called “unresolved OSD”. Physical therapy can be used to address muscle imbalances that may be contributing to OSD such as weak hips, tight hip flexors tight quads and tight ITB.
Youth sports can offer significant benefits to those who participate in them. Parents of children who wish to participate in sports should be aware of overuse injuries that may develop, and at the same time, should encourage their athletes to take breaks from sports and to play multiple sports as they age.
Parents should keep in mind the many signs and symptoms of overuse and burnout, and adhere to training recommendations given to young athletes by sports medicine or physical therapy professionals.
To learn more about preventing and treating sports injuries properly, use the BetterPT clinic locator to find a physical therapy provider near you like ReQuest Physical Therapy or download the BetterPT app to keep yourself connected on the go.
ReQuest Physical Therapy is a clinic that provides care to all who need it while recovering from an acute or chronic injury.Their sports injury recovery programs can be tailored to meet the needs of athletes of all ages, and are sure to satisfy patients and parents alike.