Originally published August 17, 2015
Dear Parents of Young Athletes:
As a physical therapist, I have the privilege to work with many of your young all-stars. Some of your kids are here to recover from an injury as quickly as possible so they can get back to competing; others come in for injury prevention so they don’t go down again; and still more are simply going above-and-beyond to understand how their body works so they can push their limits. A few of these young athletes are simply, hyper-focused individuals, self-driven to be the best in their sport, and I’m always impressed by their desire to be here and get better. Unfortunately more often than not, your kids are here because of you, the parent.
Parents are pushing their young athletes to perform and—this is going to be hard for some of you to hear—it’s usually too hard, too much and too fast.
From talking to your kids while they’re on my table, I’ve learned that it’s not uncommon for young athletes to have practice twice a day, sometimes for up to four to six hours a day, just for one sport! Whether it’s swimming, running track, or playing baseball, what this means is that your kids are performing one repetitive, sport-specific movement pattern for hours at a time, day after day, for many, many months straight.
Our bodies were not meant to perform one type of movement pattern for the amount of time that most of these athletes are putting in. Kids used to play a variety of sports throughout the year, which provided the body with more diversity and helped avoid overusing one set of muscle groups. However, our society’s current fascination with the specialization of one particular sport has dramatically increased the tendency of our young athletes to overdevelop particular muscle groups without any counter balance. Over time, the overuse of these muscle groups results in an overwhelming demand that their young bodies simply cannot support, which then leads to the injuries plaguing our children these days.
A prime example of this issue is a young soccer player. Between high school and club games, practices and tournaments, she’s essentially playing soccer year-round. She continues to push her body over and over, month after grueling month, for just this one sport. The result? Her quadriceps become too dominate; her hamstrings, glutes and outside stabilizers are basically non-existent because of the lack of strength training in her other muscle groups. This can potentially lead to an ACL tear, which studies show are up 400% over the last decade.
So whether you like to hear it or not, the fact of the matter is kids are suffering more overuse injuries these days, which ironically leads to a decrease in their overall playing time. You think you have your kid on the path to the Olympics, but instead they’re headed to my PT table with an increased risk of surgeries and chronic joint pain later on in life.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that these young athletes are so determined to become the next Mike Trout, Michael Phelps, Misty May-Treanor and so on, but the emphasis on overtraining is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. It all starts with you, parents! Can you be the difference maker in your young athletes’ lives?
Please take caution in playing your young athlete for more than eight months consecutively in a given year. A lot of these injuries can be prevented through multiple sport play, active rest and coming in to see one of our sport-specific PTs here at Rausch Physical Therapy & Sports Performance as soon as your child starts showing warning signs of overuse injury (Remember, if they’re in pain, they should have been in here weeks ago.)
With proper injury prevention knowledge and tools, together we can help reduce this alarming overuse injury trend and keep our kids happy, healthy and in the game much longer.
Jonathan Meltzer, PT, DPT
Jonathan Meltzer graduated from the University of Redlands with a bachelor of arts in biology and a minor in physical education. Following graduation, Jonathan discovered his passion for physical therapy while working as a Physical Therapy Aide. After graduating top of his class from Loma Linda University in 2012 with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy, Jonathan began his career at Rausch Physical Therapy and Sports Performance. Jonathan’s goals are to identify limitations and treat his patients with the most recent and innovative techniques in order to maximize functional independence and obtain his patients’ individual goals.