Pediatricians and orthopaedic surgeons recommend athletes not specialize in a sport, but take a rest between to avoid burnout and Overuse Syndrome.
Pediatricians and orthopaedic surgeons recommend athletes not specialize in a sport, but take a rest between to avoid burnout and Overuse Syndrome.

‘Overuse Syndrome’ common amongst young athletes

Published 4:54pm Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Too much of a good thing is more than just an old adage when it comes to mixing youngsters and year-round sports.

“Sports should be fun,” said Dr. Jim Carlile of Wetumpka’s Carlile Pediatrics. “But you can overtrain.”

According to Carlile and Brent Vinson (Facility Director of Rehab Associates), steps have been taken  by youth leagues and the Alabama High School Athletic Association to reduce overuse injuries, but it’s still prevalent.

“Traditionally, the injury you saw too much was your Little League elbow,” said Vinson, who serves as athletic trainer for Wetumpka and Holtville High Schools. “Usually, we’d see it in the years they started pitching (ages 10-15). They’ve modified that now with pitch counts and parents and coaches being smarter than they were back then. But Dr. James Andrews is still having to do Tommy John Surgery on 18-year-olds.”

According to Carlile, overuse and overtraining injuries are being combined under the Overtraining Syndrome umbrella.

“An overuse injury occurs when you have microdamage to bones/muscles/tendons because the athletes are subjecting their bodies to repetitive excerscises they shouldn’t be doing,” said Carlile. “Like lifting too much weight too fast or playing one sport repetitively without a break. Fifty percent of all the injuries pediatricians see, that’s the problem.”

“Specialization,” according to Andrews has triggered an overuse growth spurt.

“Overuse injuries are on the rise seven-to-tenfold since the year 2000 in youth sports,” wrote Andrews in an email response to The Herald. “The most common reasons are fatigue and playing one sport year round.”

First thought would be travel baseball and softball  are the leading cause candidates.

“You see it in those sports, but you’re seeing it now in gymnastics and cheerleading,” said Vinson. “Softball, the throwing mechanics are different, but the rules allow for the same pitcher to pitch multiple games so we are seeing a lot of shoulder and hip issues because of the torque  from hitting.

“In cheerleading and gymnastics, we’re seeing a lot of chronic ankle and knee injuries. We’ve seen a lot more injuries since the level of competition has gotten higher. You’re looking at kids tumbling and cheering eight days a week, the injuries have changed. And with the insurgence of women’s athletics, the rules haven’t caught up with their bodies.”

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons more than 3.5 million children, age 14 and younger are treated for sports-related injuries.

“In the old days, an athlete would say he’s burnout from playing a sport,” said Carlile. “And the parent or coach would think they were just being lazy and not wanting to play. But, burnout is a real thing. Your body really does burnout. It’s the crux of Overtraining Syndrome. It’s the body’s way of saying, ‘I’ve had enough. You’re hurting me.’ If you don’t listen to your body and you keep overtraining or overusing, your brain creates hormones that circulate and tell the athlete they don’t enjoy that sport anymore.”

Originally this was misdiagnosed as Mono or as the child being anemic, Carlisle said.

“It’s a real issue,” he said. “You see it a lot in high schoolers, juniors and seniors. The body has gone through these hormonal changes and he’s pushing himself, or sometimes it’s the parents pushing the kids to keep going. What they don’t realize, if they don’t he’s going to hurt something and will never have a shot at going to that next level.”

Andrews, Vinson and Carlile all agree it’s great for kids to go out and play sports.

But variety can be the spice of life.

The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and the Andrews Institute recommend athletes on all levels shut it down for a season.

“Every young athlete should participate in more than one sport,” wrote Andrews. “and have at least two months off, preferably three to four months each calendar year.”

This is where it helps to be multiple.

“If you want to rest and lose your edge, shift sports,” said Vinson. “If you’re specializing in baseball, go to a sport where you don’t use your arm, like soccer. I see a lot of it in softball where girls go from the spring to the summer and to the fall with no rest. Try something different. If you want to keep your conditioning, swim or play basketball or volleyball. You’re basically shifting gears and using new muscles while your overused muscles are healing.”

Carlile added, “There’s actually data that says multi-sport athletes have the highest aptitude to achieve success and move on. Look at Bo Jackson, he wasn’t just football or baseball. He did both.”

The Pediatrics Council, along with Orthopaedic Surgeons threw out one final statement.

“Sports should be fun. Let the kids be kids.”

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