It’s a frightening statistic, especially if you have a son or daughter who plays sports: Every year, 1.5 million kids go down with a serious sports injury.
Kids as young as eight now have ACL tears and major league-level shoulder injuries.
Why? Meet a doctor whose study gives us some answers.
Being stuck on the sidelines is excruciating. Just ask sisters Gina and Anna Trent. The game they love to play – soccer - is out of reach now because of the type of injury usually suffered by adults.
“I planted and then I twisted my knee and then I tore my ACL,” Anna explains.
“Once they found out I tore my ACL, we planned to have surgery the same day,” Gina says.
Many kids are just playing one sport hoping that sole focus will pay off big. The downside to that gamble is serious injury.
“You experience concussions, hurt knees and scrapes and bruises all over the body. It is a pretty rough sport,” says Mary Trent, Anna and Gina’s mom.
“Most of those kids just want to play on the playground, they don’t know what an ACL is. Now we’re seeing it in kids as young as 5, 6, 7 years of age,” explains Nirav Pandya, MD, of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.
Pandya and his research team decided to look for the answer to so many injuries in kids.
“We looked at first round NBA draft picks and saw how many of them played single sports in high school versus multiple sports, and how did that impact their career. What we actually found was the NBA players who played multiple sports, played in more games, were less likely to be injured,” Pandya says.
Playing different sports allows the body to use and stress different muscles and ligaments, not overusing and straining the same groups of muscles used in a single sport.
“You’re gonna do better in your sport if you’re playing multiple sports, and you’re less likely to be in my office because you’ve been injured,” Pandya says.
Gina and Anna are both rehabbing after their ACL surgeries and have good news for their parents and their surgeons.
“I really like soccer, but I also like my other sports I play,” Anna says.
That’s just what the doctor ordered.
Pandya advises waiting until your child is at least 14 before focusing on just one sport.
Besides being fully grown, the body also becomes more agile by that age, and that will also lead to fewer injuries.
PEDIATRIC SPORTS INJURIES
BACKGROUND: From blown-out knees in six-year-old soccer players and separated shoulders in Pee Wee quarterbacks to strained elbows in Little League pitchers, sports injuries among American youth are escalating nationwide. "As children are becoming more active in higher level sports at younger ages, it’s becoming more of a problem," notes Brooke Pengel, medical director for the Rocky Mountain Youth Sports Medicine Institute. According to the Centers for Disease Control, high school athletes alone account for an estimated two million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations annually. Meanwhile, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reports that 3.5 million children 14 and under are treated for sports injuries each year, roughly half of them suffering from overuse injuries. When it comes to rates of serious injury, cheerleading ranks near the top, accounting for 16,000 ER visits annually and half the "catastrophic" accidents among female youth athletes. Meanwhile, thousands of female soccer players suffer torn anterior cruciate ligaments (ACLs) annually.
GOOD NEWS FOR YOUNG ATHLETES: Surgeons in Colorado came together to launch STOP Sports Injuries, a national campaign aimed at educating parents and coaches on prevention strategies. It became the hub of a growing new specialty of pediatric sports medicine, with the Rocky Mountain Youth Sports Medicine Institute. The center provides comprehensive care for sports injury in youths, state of the art non-operative and surgical treatment services, sports-focused rehabilitation services and concussion care. Specialized care is critical for youth athletes because, as Brooke Pengel, medical director of the Institute, explains, "Kids are not just mini-adults. There are injuries that happen in children that literally cannot happen in adults, because adults are done growing." For instance, kids are particularly vulnerable to overuse injuries and fractures at their growth plates, areas of developing cartilage at the ends of the long bones. And because kids’ bones heal so quickly, it’s critical they get proper diagnosis and treatment fast, before things heal incorrectly.
REDUCING RISK IN YOUTH SPORTS: Reducing the risk of injury requires taking into account the physical and physiological differences between children and adults, differences that can leave youngsters more vulnerable to injury. Children have a larger surface area and bigger heads relative to their body size; their growing cartilage is more susceptible to stresses; and most lack the complex motor skills needed for certain sports until after puberty. In a guide to safety for young athletes, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons points out that “children’s bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments are still growing,” which makes them more susceptible to injury. Growth plates, the cartilage at the end of long bones where bone growth occurs, are especially susceptible to injury that could disrupt normal growth. Children who are deficient in vitamin D, for example, are 3.7 times more likely than those with normal levels of the vitamin to sustain a fracture that requires operative repair, Dr. Pooya Hosseinzadeh, pediatric orthopedist at Washington University, reported. Overuse injuries result when a child continually uses the same muscle groups and applies the same stresses to a specific body part, resulting in muscle imbalances and inadequate time for repair.