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Over-use and repetitive strain injuries are becoming more and more common among youth athletes. Kids seem to be experiencing the type of strain injuries normally only seen in adults, and at younger and younger ages. This is largely due to two reasons: 1) More intensive training regimens, and 2) An exclusive focus on one sport.

“It’s soccer, football, tennis, gymnastics,” says wellness trainer Tommy John, talking about the over-use injuries he is seeing across the board in all youth sports. “I’m treating 11-year-olds for things I used to treat only in 40-year-olds. It’s the worst I’ve seen over 20 years.” (Freedman, 2019) Kids are being diagnosed with “Little League shoulder,” an overuse injury seen in kids under 16, caused by a growth plate in their arm that hasn’t fused and becomes swollen from too much use. Other young athletes are suffering from arthritis in the knee or tendinitis in the elbow.

Dean Smith, a former pro soccer player who now directs a youth soccer program, says some kids maintain a competition and practice schedule that’s more intense than what English Premier League players face, training for hours each night year round. When kids then get injured, parents often assume it’s due to a freak accident. “They don’t correlate it at all with the fact that their child has played for three months solid, 2.5 hours every night,” Smith says. (ibid)

Here are a few simple steps parents can take to reduce the likelihood of repetitive strain injuries:

1. Cut back on training
The best way to prevent such injuries is to cut back on training. These conditions tend to crop up when kids are training for several hours a day, 5-7 days a week. Of course, for parents of elite athletes, cutting back on training time may not seem like a viable option.

2. Cross-train in multiple sports
It isn’t just the amount of time kids spend engaged in physical activity, but their repetition of the same type of activities over and over again. Thus you can reduce a child’s risk for this type of injury just by having them do a variety of sports. This helps build and work their muscles in different ways, reducing the strain caused by repetitive motions.

3. Give kids a break
Even for elite gymnasts, dancers and athletes, there’s no reason a child should be training so hard year round. Give them several months off from training during the off-season, and try to work in periodic mini-breaks during the training & competition season as well. Sometimes even just a few days off can help a child’s body recover. It may even help them perform better.

4. Work in therapy as part of the training regimen
Massage, yoga, water therapy, and other relaxation and recovery sessions can be worked in as part of the training regimen, and may help reduce repetitive strain injuries.

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