One-sport athletes at greater risk of injury

DOVER — Before sending your child to sports practice day after day to mold them into the next Peyton Manning or Serena Williams, take into consideration the toll a year-round single sport can take on their young bodies.

“Pushing kids to the limit during practice is one thing, but when you have them doing the same sport and same motion 365 days a year, that’s when we need to be concerned,” said Dr. Gabriel Lewullis, an orthopedic sports medicine specialist with Bayhealth orthopedics.

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Repetitive motions can put unhealthy and unsafe stress on children’s ligaments, tendons and muscles, just like they would for any individual. However, since adolescent and preadolescent bodies aren’t as strong as adults’, they are more vulnerable to injuries.

“Young athletes who specialize in one sport are at a much higher risk of injury,” Dr. Lewullis said. “They don’t have the body mass or the muscle mass to sustain the stress from repetitive motions and that makes them susceptible to over-use injuries.”

If you and your child already have committed to a year-round sport, the key to preventing injuries is giving the body time off.

“For athletes that are still going to specialize, it’s critical to take one or two months off from that sport each year. As a rule of thumb, I usually recommend one full month of rest. That significantly decreases the risk of injury,” said Dr. Lewullis.

The most common injuries he sees are strains in major joints like the elbow and shoulder, many of which the body can repair on it’s own. In other cases, a change in technique may be important to reduce the chance of future injuries or overuse.

But if a little rest change in technique isn’t relieving pain, it’s time to see a professional for advice — especially if the child is relying on anti-inflammatory medication to play through the pain.

“When a kid comes in and I tell them they need a break to heal and allow their body to repair itself, it’s usually the parent who’s more upset,” Dr. Lewullis said. “I think sports are great for kids; they learn a lot of valuable lessons and no one wants to see them get burned out so young.”

And the burn out doesn’t only come from physical stress, but mental stress as well.

The key to prevent both forms of burnout is to participate in more than one sport and integrate rest into the athletic schedule.

Especially for young kids, Dr. Lewullis suggested allowing them to play multiple sports they find interesting, not just one or two sports the parent wants them to play.

“We have to let kids be kids and let them enjoy playing sports. Ultimately, the kids should be deciding which sports they want to play,” said Dr. Lewullis. “We as parents and coaches need to be sure not to put too much pressure on our kids and athletes.”

Even with multiple sports, rest and a transition period are important to maintain a healthy body. And no matter the sport, precautions to take include staying hydrated and practicing non-contact stretching and warm-ups before getting to work.

“Athletes who participate in multiple sports each year are not at the same risk of injury as those specializing in just one sport,” said Dr. Lewullis. “There is a lot of benefit to changing sports throughout the year.”

Participation in youth sports has proven to be beneficial for young people. Kids who play sports learn about teamwork, conflict resolution and how to recover from loss. Throughout sports training, parents should keep an open dialogue with their young athlete and let them have fun.

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