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Overuse Injuries in Youth Sports Result of Competitive Culture


String Of Injuries


A nationally ranked diver, Bates Gregory injured her knee so severely when she was ten that she had to stop competing in gymnastics and switch to diving in the hopes that the sport would place less stress on the knee. During her first three years of high school, Gregory won consecutive state titles in diving and set the state record for the highest point total.

Gregory sustained a serious ankle injury and was sidelined for six months. A week before the state championships four months later, she fell off the board during practice, severely re-injuring the same ankle. Not wanting her competition to know she was injured, she told no one except her coach. Competing in excruciating pain, Gregory squeaked out a fourth consecutive title.

Speaking of the injury, Gregory flashed a modest grin and said, I just had to tape the ankle. It was all right." But it wasn't. Two weeks after the meet, Gregory underwent surgery that put her on the shelf for another six months. 

Growth and Constant Training: A Recipe For Injury

The surgery came one year after surgery to her left knee and two years after surgery to her right knee. Gregory attributed the knee surgeries to a "combination of growing really fast and overuse, " admitting that she practiced upwards of six hours a day, 365 days a year.

Young athletes like Gregory are severely injuring their growing bones, joints, growth plates and muscles at an alarming rate. One of six high school athletes is at least temporarily out of action each year due to injury. At the younger ages, the figure is nearly one of ten.

Most of the injuries were the result of over training, long playing seasons, and attending specialty sports camps. The injuries are caused by repeated stress to body tissue, joints and bones, such as constant over arm throwing in baseball.

Increasing Problem

Overuse injuries have become commonplace among young athletes in the last decade (although "Little League elbow" has been a problem for decades). They are not the kind suffered by children and adolescents engaging in free play or "pick up" games, but are clearly a product of the organized youth sports boom. The damage to hard and soft tissues resulting from undetected, unreported and often untreated overuse injuries can be permanent and lead to problems later in life, such as arthritis.

Injuries to growth plates, tendons, ligaments or bones are also very painful. The "no pain, no gain philosophy so frequently heard in athletic circles is an example of an adult concept which, when applied to children and adolescents, can be extremely detrimental.

Young athletes with overuse injuries typically play on competitive teams or compete in an individual sport at a competitive level, have done so since an early age, and, more often than not, play that sport continually, twelve months a year. Using soccer as an example, such a player will play outdoors until late Fall, then move indoors to play three consecutive eight week sessions until it is time to move back outside for the Spring travel soccer season in March. When that season ends in late June, it's on to an Olympic Development, Select or Premier team for a round of summer tournaments, with perhaps a one or two week soccer camp thrown in to the mix, and, by August, its time to gear up for a Labor Day tournament and another fall season. Whew!