Kids play: It’s not always fun and games
Last year, Jacob Krosschell was on the freshman baseball team at Fairhaven High School, primarily as a pitcher and a catcher. In addition to playing for the Blue Devils, he was also a member of two other teams.
His busy schedule of offseason workouts, which began in November, then practices and games lasting into August, caught up to him when he developed an injury to his upper right arm in the summer.
Krosschell said it was tightness and soreness. Officially, Joseph E. Chase, MD of Upper Cape Orthopedics in North Falmouth, and chair of Orthopaedic Surgery at Falmouth Hospital, diagnosed it as bicipital tenosynovitis, or tendinitis of the proximal biceps tendon at the shoulder. The cause? Too much throwing.
Krosschell isn’t alone. In recent years, doctors are seeing a significant increase in overuse sports injuries in children and teenagers. Dr. Chase goes so far as to call the issue an epidemic.
“It’s a term which we usually associate with a disease. But that’s what going on and it’s spreading.” he said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Overuse injuries are responsible for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle and high school students.
- High school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year.
- More than 3.5 million kids under age 14 receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year.
- Children ages 5 to 14 account for nearly 40 percent of all sports-related injuries treated in hospitals.
“Those statistics are accurate, and if anything, they are getting worse,” said Dr. Chase. “One of the big problems in all this is specialization. Young kids and teenagers are playing just one sport almost year-round, and often on more than one team. That leads to so many more practices and games. The body isn’t getting enough time to rest and recover, and we’re talking about an age in boys and girls when their bones and muscles are still developing.”
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) notes that when a youngster plays only one sport throughout the year, he or she continually uses the same muscle groups and applies unchanging stress to specific areas of the body. This can lead to muscle imbalances that, when combined with overtraining and inadequate periods of rest, put them at risk for overuse injuries.
Krosschell was fortunate that his arm injury was diagnosed and treated early. Rest, rehabilitation and preventive measures have the 15-year-old sophomore back in the game with his Fairhaven High teammates this season. Dr. Chase prescribed physical therapy, no throwing for six weeks and, once Krosschell resumed playing, strict monitoring of pitch counts and icing of his arm after workouts.
“Kids Jacob’s age think they’re invincible,” said his mother, Sandra Krosschell. “He simply just overdid it by playing too much.”
Concentrate On Teaching
Dr. Chase said he sees overuse injuries mostly in baseball and hockey, where youngsters have long seasons and often play on multiple teams.
“There’s not enough supervision from one team to another,” he said. “In baseball, a pitcher might be in a game for one team today, and then be pitching again the next day or two for another team.”
And with all this, Dr. Chase added, “You see too many coaches who are too concerned with winning. At this age, especially in youth sports, they should be concentrating on teaching and letting the kids develop skills and have fun.”
Dr. Chase has other recommendations for young athletes:
- A physical exam to determine if there are risk factors or if the youngster is predisposed to an injury.
- No more than 16 to 20 hours a week of physical activity.
- More education for coaches.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons also has a resources link on its website called STOP – Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention – focusing on the sports that have the highest rates of overuse and trauma injuries. There are specific tip sheets for parents, athletes, coaches and healthcare providers to learn about how to stay safe when playing sports.
For his part, Jacob said he has learned an important lesson.
“Listen to your body and be aware that if something hurts or doesn’t feel right, tell your coach. This was a wake-up call for me. I feel much better and now I know how to take care of myself.”