Published: Mar. 20, 2013
Updated: Mar. 20, 2013
Young athletes who take a “no pain, no gain” approach to sports may not realize how harmful that mantra can be to their growing bodies.
“It’s all about how you define pain,” says Tracy Ray, MD, a primary care physician with Duke Orthopaedics. “If you’re sore, and you’re tired, you need to push yourself through those uncomfortable feelings in order to condition your body and develop speed, strength and endurance.”
However, an athlete who experiences pain in a specific joint or body part repeatedly during an activity needs to know when to stop and rest. Parents need to understand that too, Ray stresses. “When parents push their children to play sports despite complaints, they are doing a lot more harm than good.”
Playing through pain may put an athlete on the bench with a serious injury that takes longer to heal. It could also set them up for problems throughout their playing career and into adulthood.
“Untreated repetitive injuries can cause stress fractures or chronic tendon problems in young bodies, and it can increase the chances surgery will be needed to repair the injury. When some cartilage injuries are ignored, it’s entirely likely that arthritis will set in when they become adults,” says Ray.
Overuse injuries typically result from doing too much of one activity, or doing too much, too quickly. Improper technique can also be to blame.
Whether it’s dance or cheerleading, soccer or baseball, kids who play the same sport year round are at the highest risk for overuse injuries, says Ray. “Parents often think they are doing the right thing for their kids by encouraging them to pursue their passions. They may even dream of a college scholarship,” he says.
Kids and their parents are often reluctant to seek medical care because they think the practitioner will tell them to rest. Ray says that’s not the doctor talking; it’s the athlete’s body. “If your body hasn’t had enough recovery time, it’s going to tell you. The question is: are you going to listen.”
Parents can help their young athletes avoid repetitive use injuries with these helpful tips: