Overuse injuries on the rise in younger athletes


Bumps, bruises – even the occasional broken bone – often come with the territory of high school sports, but another type of injury is on the rise among these athletes.
A recent study conducted by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine found that young athletes who train intensively and extensively in one sport are at a higher risk for stress fractures and overuse injuries, which develop over time, than athletes who mix it up, playing a variety of sports.
Physical therapists categorize overuse injuries as those that develop over time as joints, tendons and ligaments are strained by recurring running, throwing and swinging motions. Many of those therapists say overuse injuries are on the rise among high school-aged athletes, particularly those who specialize in one sport.
Often found on the baseball diamond during the spring and summer or at the indoor batting cages in the winter, Hopkinton High School freshman Mitch Karpe spent nearly every day swinging a bat or throwing a baseball.
“I was playing a lot of baseball,” said Karpe, 14. “I was playing every day during the week.”
That all changed several months ago after Karpe developed a severe pain in his lower back and was sent to Momentum Physical Therapy in Milford for treatment and a personal training program.
“It hurt whenever I walked or ran,” said Karpe. “It affected my play.”
Like Karpe, Hopkinton High freshman Taylor Pichel, 15, could also frequently be spotted scoring goals on the soccer and lacrosse fields in town until a recent ankle injury caused by the constant running and cutting in those sports forced her to have surgery and miss some time on the field.
“Over a year or so I rolled it six times,” said Pichel, who plays on town and club soccer and lacrosse teams and also goes to Momentum Physical Therapy for treatment and a personal training program. “I was playing a sport every day.”
Since attending Momentum Physical Therapy, both athletes said they learned proper posture and warm up and cool down exercises that help prevent injuries.
Both Karpe’s and Pichel’s injuries were a result of overuse, a growing trend among young athletes.
“We are a generation of student athletes,” said Chris Titcomb, a physical therapist at Hopkinton Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine. “They’re pushing their bodies harder and doing the same motions and not cross training.”
Jonathan Zlotnick, a physical therapist at Personal Physical Therapy in Marlborough, said many high school-aged athletes are suffering professional level injuries, such as torn anterior cruciate ligaments, lateral epicondylitis – commonly known as tennis elbow – tendinitis and torn tendons, because their bodies are still growing, and due to the overuse of specific muscle groups used in certain sports.
“A lot of them don’t balance out their muscle groups,” said Zlotnick. “It is kind of concerning.”
While both Karpe and Pichel plan to continue playing their sports despite their injuries, Eric Cardin, executive director of South County Physical Therapy, said overuse injuries and specializing in one sport can cause student-athletes to begin to dislike and eventually quit the games they used to love.
“It drives them away from the sport,” said Cardin. “It burns them out.”
With the growing popularity of club sports, many high school athletes are now playing one sport year round instead of three different sports throughout the year, making them more susceptible to overuse injuries.
“The three-sport athlete may get injured, but not because of overuse of one area of the body,” said Eric Schoenberg, co-owner of Momentum Physical Therapy. “It starts with overbooking kids. It’s too much stress for a skeleton that can’t handle that stress.”
Over the past few years, Marlborough High School Athletic Director Jeff Rudzinsky has noticed the trend of athletes specializing in one sport rising, which he says is concerning.
“I have seen an increase in specialization over the past couple years and I personally don’t like the trend,” he said. “I think parents are being misled that if their student-athlete specializes and spends all their time training for one sport their likelihood of success is much greater.”
Other athletic directors, including Ashland’s Ryan Quigley and Natick’s Tim Collins, are not seeing the trend.
“We are fortunate that our students still play multiple sports and many play three seasons,” said Collins.
Because of the rise in overuse injuries among young athletes, many high school coaches have altered practice routines to provide more cross training and rest, both of which are preventative measures.
“I am careful to ensure that athletes get rest and recovery time, as well as some physical training to strengthen their bodies to avoid overuse,” said Natick High School cross country coach Matthew Miller. “Additionally, in track and cross country, I can schedule cross training activities for my runners when they need to avoid the pounding of running for a few days.”
John Hiller, head coach of Westborough High School’s boys soccer team, has offered a variety of drills to work different parts of his players’ bodies, as well as providing proper warm up and cool down exercises.
Along with providing different training methods, Hiller eases up the practices when the team plays several games in a short span of days. If the team plays back-to-back games on Monday and Tuesday, the next day’s practice is very light.
“A hard practice on Wednesday could cause muscles to tear and lead to an injury that could have been prevented,” he said.
With the trend of overuse injuries fairly new, physical therapists say they are unsure what the affects may be to high school athletes 20 or so years down the road.
“Time is going to tell over the next 20 years,” said Titcomb.

By: Jeff Malachowski
Original article published: http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/news/x1275649374/Overuse-injuries-on-the-rise-in-younger-athletes?zc_p=2