Editorial: Young athletes need breaks to avoid overuse injuries
Much attention, deservedly so, has been placed on football and other sports where concussions can cause long-term damage.
Certainly we support efforts to keep youth athletes from participating too soon -- or at all -- after suffering a concussion. But sports injuries are not limited to those kinds of contact sports. Experts say shoulder and elbow injuries are on the rise for young athletes. The cause? Overuse.
As the school year winds down, it's a good time for parents and athletes alike to take a step back and assess how much stress they are putting on those young bodies. The best way to deal with pain or fatigue? Take a break.
"We see kids as young as 10 or 12 with shoulder pain from throwing too much," orthopedic surgeon Brian Forsythe told columnist Burt Constable. "We're seeing it more and more."
Dr. Forsythe and the Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush have joined with the Illinois Athletic Trainers Association to raise awareness of shoulder overuse injuries. They've put together a website -- shouldersforlife.org -- which has tips for those athletes and their parents to follow.
According to the website, the American Journal of Sports Medicine reports that an estimated 75 percent of youth baseball players suffered at least some arm pain and fatigue related to play.
But it's not just baseball players. Another study found nearly half of swimmers between the ages of 10 and 18 experience shoulder pain. Softball, tennis and volleyball players also are seeing an increase in these kinds of injuries.
Specializing in one sport and doing it year-round is one of the causes of this increase, doctors say. No doubt, another contributor is a growing tendency among parents and athletes to treat like a lead-up to the pros or a college career, to make a kid's sport all-consuming. If parents want to keep their children healthy, encouraging them to take a break or try another sport is the way to do so.
"There are a ton of injuries with kids playing the same sport year-round," said Michael Gilboe, head athletic trainer at Lake Forest College and the public relations director for the Illinois Athletic Trainers Association.
The tips offered by Shoulders for Life seem basic. Never play with pain. Warm up properly. Play a variety of positions within the sport. Cross-train or try another sport that uses different muscles. But even a Shoulder for Life spokesman who talked to Constable has a difficult time balancing that kind of advice with his desire to play in the big leagues.
"If I get some chronic pain in the future, it will remind me of the good times I had," said 25-year-old Rich Mascheri, a former star at Wauconda High School who is rehabbing his shoulder now as he prepares for a comeback in the New York Yankees organization. "Maybe I'll feel differently when I'm 40."
He will. That's why parents and coaches need to be in sync early on by taking the appropriate steps to keep younger athletes free from injury today.