What Parents Should Know About Overuse Injuries in Young Athletes

An estimated 30 million American children and teenagers are getting valuable exercise and socialization by participating in organized sports. Unfortunately, many of them are also being sidelined by overuse injuries.

While overuse issues can affect various parts of the body, they most commonly strike the knee or foot, and they account for approximately half of all sports medicine injuries. Damage can occur to muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and/or growth plates from repetitive stress without adequate time for rest and recovery. Shin splints and shoulder injuries from swimming or overhand pitching are just a couple of examples of common overuse injuries.

At Coastal Empire Orthopedics, orthopedist Dr. Jonathan Shults and sports medicine specialist James Dean are highly skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of overuse injuries; they also place an emphasis on educating young athletes and their parents about injury prevention.

How to spot an overuse injury

Unlike an acute injury that occurs suddenly, usually as the result of an accident or trauma, overuse injuries in young athletes develop over time, often progressing through the following stages:

It's important to note that children may not recognize that ongoing discomfort is connected to overuse, so parents should keep a watchful eye.

Causes of overuse injuries

Overuse injuries occur as a result of repeating the same motion — such as throwing a ball or swinging a golf club — over and over again. Researchers have found that athletes who play a single sport are almost twice as likely to experience damage to muscles and joints than athletes who participate in multiple sports that require a variety of movements.

Being on more than one team (co-ed, little league, school, etc.) as well as spending too many hours per week on the same sport also increase the risk of overuse injuries.

Preventing overuse injuries

Fortunately, there are a number of things young athletes can do to stay healthy and either avoid overuse injuries in the first place or prevent their recurrence.

Get a sports physical

Schedule a pre-participation physical before starting a new season to make sure there are no issues that require monitoring or any need for rehabilitation before your child participates.

Stay fit year-round

Encourage your child to engage in a variety of physical activities throughout the year to keep their muscles, bones, and body healthy. And make sure they warm up and cool down properly pre- and post-workout.

Variety is key

Limit participation to one sport and a single team each season. Ideally, children should explore different sports throughout the year.

Train smart

Mix it up with biking, swimming, and other cross-training to improve your child’s endurance and reduce their chance of injury. Also, don't reach too far too fast; whether it's training distance, time, or reps, children shouldn't increase the amount by more than 10% each week.


Getting enough rest is crucial to successful athletic performance. Children should have at least one day off from their sport per week. They should also take off a total of three months from any given sport each year. During this time, general physical fitness should be maintained through other means.

If your young athlete is experiencing any pain or discomfort due to their sports participation, even if the issue seems minor, have them evaluated by an expert right away. Call Coastal Empire Orthopedics or book an appointment online today for treatment and future injury prevention.

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