Train It or Treat It?

“When you’re young, you don’t think very far ahead. You just think in terms of the next day, the next week, the next competition. You don’t think about injuries that could threaten your long-term health.”

Katarina Witt


The following are just some of the statistics I compiled while researching for my book, A Body to Die For: The Painful Truth About Exercise.


  • JS Powell and KD Barber Foss found that high school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits, and 30,000 hospitalizations each year. They also found that more than 3.5 million kids under age 14 receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year.


  • In a study, Preserving the Future of Sport: From Prevention to Treatment of Youth Overuse Sports Injuries, it was found that children ages 5 to 14 account for nearly 40% of all sports-related injuries treated in hospitals. In addition, since 2000 there has been a fivefold increase in the number of serious shoulder and elbow injuries among youth baseball and softball players.


  • In a Safe Kids USA Campaign it was stated that overuse injuries are responsible for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle and high school students.


  • 20% of children ages 8 to 12 and 45% of those ages 13 to 14 will have arm pain during a single youth baseball season – according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons in 2009.


  • According to the CDC, more than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable.


These stats represent athletes as young as five years old through high school-age kids. As kids get older, the severity of injuries increase and can become more damaging as well. As I stated earlier, injuries can occur at any age; it is part of the risk of playing sports. But when the injury occurs because of overuse, especially at a younger age, the blame does not fall on the sport itself, it falls on the parents and coaches.


The CDC says that more than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable. That should definitely open our eyes and move us to make changes to reduce the amount of time kids are involved in sports. The challenge this poses is a big one because many kids are involved in many different sports year-round, and it has become a normal thing. But it is certainly not a safe thing. The predispositions of injury that are created with overuse and overtraining can wait around for years and affect or end an athlete’s career in a split second, regardless of their age.


Not all injuries are caused by overuse and overtraining, but an injury is still an injury and can have lasting effects that can show back up at any time during and after an athlete’s career. The majority of injuries that occur to athletes of all ages, especially the young ones, are sprains and strains of muscles and joints. Muscle strains can typically heal fairly fast, but there are some that really can be nagging and very sensitive – like an injury to the hamstrings, abdomen, and groin area which, by the way, are injuries that are highly regarded as being caused by overuse and overtraining. These injuries can be treated with a high success rate, but they can also come back over and over again and hinder an athlete’s production on and off the field. Injuries to the soft tissues of the joints like ligaments, tendons, and cartilage are where problems get prolonged. These are the injuries that can have a lasting impact and leave a young athlete’s joint, whether it is a knee, hip, or shoulder, more susceptible to pain and injury in the future.


There’s also the problem with injuries creating imbalances throughout an athlete’s body. When an athlete or anyone gets injured, their body’s musculature, skeleton, and connective tissue compensate for that injury and work differently than they did before the injury. Think of limping or not being able to move the same when you have an injury. If this injury keeps happening or is never fully healed, the body becomes imbalanced and the integrity of other joints and soft tissue becomes compromised resulting in a compounding injury to the body. This happens a lot in sports, and it goes like this: Let’s say an athlete injures their right toe which leads to the left leg supporting more weight and movement than usual. It’s just a toe, so he or she goes ahead and practices or plays and all of a sudden pulls a left hamstring. Now things are really off, and the body is compensating for two injuries. The next day that person is getting out of the car, steps down with one leg, makes a slight turn, brings the other leg out, and BAM! Their groin area is injured.


This is just one example of how one injury can compound into others if it’s not corrected. The reason I make this point is that some injuries leave imprints or weak spots in your body that will always be there and more than likely show up later in life. With young athletes this is magnified because of the increasingly high demands of physical performance they place on their bodies as they go through junior high, high school, and on to college. I have said this before, and I will say it again: Keep your kids from playing year-round sports, and always be aware of how long they are training and how intense their training methods are in the off-season. Help them save their bodies from future injury and pain.