Young athletes facing ‘overuse injuries’
Madison eighth grader Jason Ceniti has dreamed of a career in the NFL since he was in grade school.
“Football I’ve been wanting to pursue, college level, and my long-term goal is the NFL,” said Ceniti, who not only spends time as a quarterback on his football team, he’s also a standout power forward in basketball, and also roams the outfield on the baseball field.
What that means is a lot of driving for his parents, but also concerns over his health. His father. Chris, a former high school coach himself, is in the business of promoting physical wellness, and that definitely includes the health of his own son.
“A 10-game football, followed by 40-game basketball schedule along with a 50-game baseball schedule – We definitely wondered, how do you fit that all together and be able to do it?” said the elder Ceniti.
It was Jason’s passion for sports that led him to Brian Bott at Sports AdvantEdge in Verona. Bott opened the facility with co-owner Jim Deischer after a 13-year career as the assistant strength and conditioning coach for the University of Wisconsin football program. He realized during his time there that younger athletes needed to learn the art of injury prevention.
“The key to training is preventing injuries,” said Bott, “Overuse injuries are very common, and have been very common probably for the five or 10 years. I saw it when I was a college strength coach with kids coming in the door. As an 18-year-old athlete they needed surgery before you could even start training them.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 million children participate in organized sports in the United States every year. It’s a number that continues to grow, and in a world where too many kids sit on their electronic devices too long, it’s great that kids are finding sports as a vehicle to lead healthy and active lifestyles. On the other hand, sports injuries are mounting in young people. The American Orthopedic Society of Sports Medicine said more than 5.5 million kids from age 5 through high school suffer injuries playing sports each year. Those injuries include 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year. More than half of those injuries are so-called “overuse injuries”.
One issue is too much training per week. Another is athletes that are giving up all their sports to specialize in one sport.
“I think about 50 percent of the injuries that we see in young athletes are overuse injuries, as opposed to acute injuries,” said Dean Clinic board-certified sports medicine doctor Brian Reeder, “And if they repetitively do one motion over and over again in a forward position, a lot of athletes are very forward-engaged they tend to strengthen and tighten certain muscle groups and not use those opposing muscle groups, which can then sometimes set them up for the acute injury.”
At places like Sports AdvantEdge, the training is all about teaching kids as young as third grade the proper mechanics, and developing the complete athlete.
“Technique is everything,” said Bott, “and if you teach kids the improper technique at an early age, really hard to break those motor patterns.”
Reeder said injury prevention programs are increasingly common, but often young athletes aren’t interested in conditioning their bodies to prevent injuries.
For Chris and Jason Ceniti, now four years into injury prevention programs at Sports AdvantEdge, the results have been positive. “At this point from 4th grade on through his 8th grade season so far he’s been able to train and I think it’s prevented a number of opportunities for injury,” said Chris.
Still in his early teens, Jason has learned a love for fitness through sports that he knows will take him beyond whatever happens on the athletic field. “When I come here, I have a lot of fun. I’ve developed, over the years. I’ve developed a work ethic. That helps me get better.”
Tips from Reeder on keeping young athletes healthy:
1. Mixing it up is great
It’s good to do something different with your body. If you have a favorite sport, spend 2-3 months a year doing “something different”. For example, a swimmer going straight to baseball, that’s really the same movement. Maybe try track (running) or another “lower body” sport.
2. Time off is fine and important
Having at least 1-2 days a week where they aren’t playing their sport. Expand their minds, playing with friends, to “free play”.
3. Rules for hours based on age of child
A study suggested that kids who played organized sports for more hours per week, than their age in years, are at greater risk of injury. For example, limit an 8-year-old to no more than 8 hours of organized sports per week.
4. Rest, Recovery and Nutrition
Smaller kids need adequate nutrition and rest, and plenty of water. Hold off on the sports drinks. Recovery is important.