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Young Athletes and Overuse Injuries

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

We had a pediatric orthopedic surgeon on the show recently and we discussed overuse injuries in adolescent athletes. I see more and more kids who come in with complaints of back pain, knee pain, ankle and elbow pain often secondary to repetitive motion from sports. They usually don’t have a lot of swelling, and they complain of pain with their activity, but otherwise are fine. When taking a history their biggest complaints occur during the sport or immediately after, and they usually feel better after resting overnight.The pain re-occurs once they resume their work out the next day. The cycle is continuous.

The best treatment for overuse injuries is to follow the pneumonic RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. For further relief of pain add an anti-inflammatory medication such as Aleve, Motrin or Advil. If the athlete can play through the pain, it does not awaken them throughout the night and they are fine attending school and other activities, they are probably fine to continue in the sport. If the pain becomes persistent during the day, disrupts their sleep etc, then they will need to have further evaluation.

For persistent stress-related injuries rest may be the next step. Many times it is just necessary to let the body have some “time off” and may also involve stretching exercises to strengthen their core muscles, or yoga and Pilates to improve flexibility and strength. This is usually a four to six week period away from their sport.

One caveat that was discussed was the importance of watching for depressive symptoms in an athlete who has had to take time off from their activity. Parents need to recognize not only the physical pain their child is experiencing, but also the child’s emotional pain related to stopping their sport. Many of these kids have such passion for their sport and also gain a great deal of self worth from their participation. To take that away from them is emotionally devastating, and their young minds are not cognitively developed enough to deal with the loss of their athletic endeavors, even for a short time. Watch closely and be supportive and acknowledge their feelings. It is just as important to seek help for their mental health if that seems necessary.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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One Response to “Young Athletes and Overuse Injuries”

  1. Pamela says:

    Thank you. My twin girls play a lot of tennis and have recently started having some knee pain I am sure due to overuse. When do you think about a brace (I have been told that it is not necessarily a good thing as it becomes a crutch and doesn’t allow the knee to get stronger), or using something like the TENS machine?

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