Children ages 5 to 14 account for nearly 40 percent of all sports-related injuries treated in hospital emergency departments. The rate and severity of sports-related injury increases with a child’s age.
Kids are more vulnerable to injury than adults due to the fast rate at which their bodies are growing, and a weakness in growth plates and the tendons surrounding them.
Growth plates are soft areas of developing tissue found at the end of the long bones. While a child is still growing, the bone isn’t completely calcified in that area and has not reached its full strength.
The most common cause of serious pain for kids in sports is overuse injury — a series of small injuries to an immature body causing minor fractures, minimal muscle tearing and progressive bone deformities.
“Any sport can produce an overuse injury,” said Dr. Cynthia LaBella, medical director of the Institute for Sports Medicine at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “Overuse injuries are increasing for a couple of reasons. Sports are much more competitive at an earlier age, and many children are playing one sport year-round now. They’re not getting enough time off for their bodies to recover. Or, they might be playing three sports at once and what that amounts to is that they never get a day off.”
In the past, kids directed their own activities. Adults may remember their own days growing up when they and their friends would spend days riding bikes and playing in the park, or meeting at the lake for an afternoon of water fun.
When kids play on their own, they invent games, they take breaks and they create variety in their activities.
They engage in different activities throughout the year like biking and baseball in spring, swimming and tennis in summer, soccer and football in fall, ice skating and basketball in winter, to name just a few. Today, their activities are often highly scheduled and organized.