Tips to prevent overuse injuries in youth sports

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COLUMBIA - Overuse injuries appear to be growing increasing common in youth sports. According to a 2015 study by the American Journal of Sports Medicine, nearly 60 percent of Tommy John surgeries were for patients age 15 to 19.

Robin Wilson, a physical therapist with WELLAWARE, shared a few tips to prevent overuse injuries in young athletes.

Wilson said athletes often do not put enough emphasis on conditioning and flexibility training. She said while training with heavy weights can be fun, doing low weight, high repetition training is good for the longevity of the muscles.

"If you're a pitcher in softball or baseball, you want to do some shoulder exercises that will specifically target and condition your shoulders," Wilson said.

Wilson said another way to prevent an overuse injury is to make sure your child is alternating the muscles they use to compete. In other words, your kids can play competitive sports all year long, but playing the same sport two seasons in a row is a bad idea.

"Experts recommend not playing more than one season of the same competitive sport a year," Wilson said.

Traditionally, each sport has its own season. For boys, soccer and football are in the fall, basketball is in the winter, and baseball is in the spring. But with select sports leagues gaining more and more popularity, young athletes have the opportunity to play their favorite sport competitively just about all year long.

Wilson said that can take a toll on the muscles.

"If you're playing year round your body never has time to rest, and you don't have time to develop other muscles within your body," she said.

Wilson said even if your child loves playing baseball, joining a summer league right after the spring season ends is not a good idea.

When an athlete starts to experience pain, Wilson said there's a simple test to see if that discomfort is just normal post-play soreness, or if it's a more serious injury: If the pain doesn't go away after one or two days rest, you should seek help.

Wilson said young athletes need to stay vigilant, even when they get the "all clear" to start playing again after an injury.

"If you come back playing, and you feel pain again, you need to go back, or drop the intensity again," Wilson said.  "It's better to be safe than undo all your progress."

To learn more about this topic, read this full report by the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine.