Kids play sports? Doctor warns overuse injuries are on the rise in younger children

SAN ANTONIO – Eighteen-year-old Emily Rodriguez is a scrappy force on the high school basketball court.

“I love it, the adrenaline,” she said. “I will throw myself on the floor to get the ball if I have to.”

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But playing in school team sports and competitive summer leagues for years has led to injuries.

Beyond a sprained ankle, she’s suffered fractures in her hand, foot and back.

Rodriguez is among a growing number of children and teens suffering what are called overuse injuries, particularly stress fractures.

What’s most alarming is the patients are getting younger.

“As of this past year, my youngest stress injury happened at eight years old, so that’s a record for me,” Dr. Hector Lopez with Sports Medicine Associates San Antonio said.

While athletics can benefit youth in many ways, Lopez says the culture is one of increased competitiveness and early specialization. Kids are pushing themselves hard, practically year-round.

“Kids are not just little adults, right? They (are) rapidly increasing in size and height. And those growth plates need time to fully play out the process of becoming a permanent bone,” Lopez said.

Playing the same sport with repetitive movements, such as throwing, running and bending, can lead to stress fractures over time.

“The analogy I’ll give parents is a paperclip; (a) strong piece of metal,” Lopez said. “But you bend it back and forth enough, eventually, it snaps.”

While some injuries heal, others can have consequences such as impaired growth or chronic pain later in life.

Lopez encourages young athletes and parents not to ignore the aches and pains. He prescribes rest so that injured muscles, bones, tendons and growth plates have time to regenerate and heal.

“I would say (it is) super important to incorporate rest and recovery as part of your training regimen,” he said. “You can overtrain, and that will lead to underperformance as well. So you have to strike the right balance. Like they say, everything in moderation.”

He says proper nutrition, sleep and stretching is vital, too. Playing a variety of sports can help avoid repetitive motions and overuse injuries.

As for Rodriguez, she is about to graduate from the Young Women’s Leadership Academy. She’s done with the intense training for competitive basketball, but she’s not quitting sports.

“Future-wise, I think I want to go into sports medicine,” she said.

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