Overuse injuries are not just for adults. With 30 million kids participating in organized youth sports every year, athletics have become the number one cause of injury among adolescents. Those that participate in organized sports frequently play in a year-round format that allows little time for recovery and may encourage the development of overuse or repetitive stress injuries.
During periods of rapid growth, the areas in which tendons connect to bones are vulnerable sites of injury as these growth centers are subjected to the high demands of athletic activity. Two common injuries of this type are Osgood-Schlatter’s Disease of the knee and Sever’s Disease of the heel. As both are caused by the repetitive stress of athletics, a pause in sports activity may play a role in recovery from these conditions. However, with the increasing seriousness and organization of youth sports, the traditional approach of extended rest and activity modification may not sit well with eager young athletes anxious to return to a favorite sport.
Those children with Sever’s Disease are typically between the ages of 7-10 and are usually very active. Pain or soreness is usually located at the back of the heel where the Achilles’ tendon meets the bone with many experiencing symptoms on both sides. Like overuse injuries in adults, early diagnosis and treatment are important in a quick resolution of the problem. Not surprisingly, weakness and a lack of flexibility of the calf and lower leg are associated with the condition and should be addressed as part of any treatment program. Physical therapy aimed at strengthening and stretching of the calf and leg is recommended by nearly all sports medicine clinicians and researchers. Although relative rest from sport may be important, young athletes can still remain active through cross-training on a stationary bike or in the pool.
Osgood-Schlatter’s is usually found in 11-15 year old adolescents, especially in those playing basketball, volleyball and soccer. Pain is present below the kneecap at the bony bump at the top of the lower leg bone. This bump, called the tibial tubercle, usually swells and remains more prominent, even after the condition resolves. Like Sever’s, many experience the condition on both sides. For Osgood-Schlatter’s, strengthening the quad, hamstring and hip is of primary importance in treating the condition.
As kids increasingly begin to suffer from sports-related overuse injuries it is important to take an active, exercise focused approach to treatment. As many young athletes are dedicated to a year-long sport, rehabilitation can no longer consist of long periods of complete rest and a recovery based on “just go play.”