Don't overdo it: High school athletes risk 'repetitive use injuries,' says local athletic trainer

CINCINNATI - It won’t be long now. With high hopes for a winning season, hundreds of young athletes across the Tri-State are gearing up for their sport -- football, cross country, soccer, or volleyball.

But look closely, and you might see more than a few players sitting on the sidelines, suffering from overuse injuries to their arms, hips, knees and feet.

Did you know? More than 38 million children participate in sports each year in the United States.

According to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, doctors are seeing a significant increase in repetitive use injuries for young athletes, due to a growing emphasis on high-intensity, year-round training, starting at early ages.

Perry Denehy, M.Ed., the lead athletic trainer for Sycamore High School, says overuse injuries have become common. Denehy has worked as a trainer for over 30 years and is now employed by TriHealth.

“High school athletes at one time took the summer off, and during that time they were able to rest and recover,” said Denehy. “Now with travel teams, focus teams, those athletes are conditioning and participating year round.That doesn’t give their bodies a chance to heal and recover.”

WATCH: More from Perry Denehy in the video player above

According to the National Athletic Trainer’s association, about 50 percent of all sports injuries in young athletes are due to overuse or repetitive trauma injuries that occur while their bodies are still growing.

“Athletes who play one sport run the risk of overdoing it to a particular muscle group,” Denehy said.

Overuse injuries can affect muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, and growth plates. If young athletes are not given an opportunity to rest and heal, doctors say that some injuries might lead to impaired growth and long-term health problems that require surgery or lead to arthritis later in life.

So why is there so much focus on high-intensity training? Athletic trainers acknowledge the competition is fierce when it comes to landing college sports scholarships and spots on the varsity roster. However, they caution parents, coaches, and athletes about the risks of training exclusively on a single sport, especially starting at young ages.

RELATED: Soccer? Softball? Tennis? Youthletic.com aims to connect parents & kids with Tri-State youth sports

“The single sport athlete is able to develop their skills at a higher level and have competition year around to improve those skills; however, you can potentially lead to a psychological burnout, where they just get tired of that sport, and their bodies physically get too tired," Denehy said.

To avoid damaging particular muscle groups and to avoid mental burnout, Denehy suggests parents encourage their young athletes to participate in a variety of physical activities throughout the year, rather than focus on a single sport.

“The multiple sport athlete has a variety of interests, a variety of friends and coaches to work with, and their overuse injures seem to be lessened.”

7 tips from doctors and trainers (Safe Kids Worldwide):

1. Encourage kids to take at least one or two days off from any particular sport each week, to balance muscle development, prevent mental fatigue, and decrease the risk of overuse injuries.

2. Rest each year during the off-season.

3. Stretch and warm up before practices and games to help prevent muscle tears and sprains.

4. Do not play through pain.

5. Wear proper safety gear.

6. Eat well, stay hydrated, and get plenty of sleep.

7. See the pediatrician annually before participating in sports.

Resources:

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