While it’s fantastic for children and teens to participate in sports, it presents some risks that don’t generally affect adults. Student-athletes who focus on one sport are prone to overuse injuries, particularly in the knees, feet, elbow, and shoulder. For active young people, it’s important to keep overuse injury prevention in mind.

What Causes Overuse?

Kids’ bodies are still growing, well into their late teens. Children who are active tend to be highly energetic and competitive, and may not pay attention to warning signs or practice sensible training the way adults would. This can cause repetitive motion injuries in muscles and growth plates, or tears, sprains, and strains in tendons, muscles, and ligaments. 

Breaks Can Help

Student-athletes need time to rest every week, and between seasons. If they specialize in one sport, it’s critical to overuse injury protection for them to take time off, up to 6-12 weeks from a particular sport per year.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends two days a week of full rest. That means they aren’t playing the sport, cross-training, or lifting; nothing beyond normal daily activity that could cause strain to the body.

The “Rule of Years”

It’s helpful to use the “rule of years” to plan a safe and healthy training schedule for overuse injury prevention. Essentially, a child should only train the same number of hours in a week as they are years old. In other words, a 13-year-old shouldn’t put in more than 13 hours a week of practice, a 17-year-old shouldn’t train more than 17 hours a week and so on. 

Data reflects that student athletes ages 18 and under are almost twice as likely to suffer an injury from focusing on a single sport than those that train in multiple sports. While some parents and students think concentrating on one sport is a path to a college scholarship, the reality is that it’s much more likely to result in an overuse injury.