In a story reported by the Associated Press yesterday and again today, an alarming new trend is being seen by doctors around the country: Injuries once seen mostly in adult athletes are becoming distressingly common in youth athletes - not just in high school, but in Little League and Pee Wee Football.
These aren't simple injuries. In the past decade, "Tommy John" surgeries to repair elbows blown out playing baseball - an operation named for a Hall of Famer - have almost tripled among adolescents.
Worse, some injuries don't have good treatments for young patients. The surgery that fixed the torn ACL in Tiger Woods' knee, for instance, can thwart the growth of a young child's leg.
An orthopedic surgeon at Children's Hospital Boston is about to begin a government-funded study to figure out the best treatment for children who tear their anterior cruciate ligament while growth plates around the knee are still active. However, long-term consequences for little joints is unknown.
Why the sudden influx? Orthopedic surgeons say that today's youth sports are more intense, with players often picking just one sport to specialize as young as 8.
I have a different theory. I believe it's due to a lack of physical education classes in public schools and proper physical conditioning. In the past 10-15 years, many schools have cut physical education classes from the curriculum. Children no longer play (run, jump, climb, skip, wrestle or participate in playground games and sports) on a daily basis. Not just at school, but also after school.
This also includes physical labor. How many children perform physical chores like they used to 50 or more years ago? These days, it's very rare to see a child have to do anything more physical than setting the dinner table or picking up their clothes off their bedroom floor. In the past, many children were expected to help out on the farm by feeding the animals, carrying buckets of water, bailing hay or even raking the yard, mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, chopping wood, etc.
Another reason is due to the advancement of computer and video games like Nintendo, PlayStation, etc. More children are playing video games on the computer or TV rather than going outside and playing.
Without proper physical activities at a young age, children will not develop the necessary skills and abilities to play organized sports. Muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones need to be used on a daily basis and stressed with a variety of resistance in order to build strength, muscle, flexibility, speed, power, balance and coordination.
Simple things like jumping, climbing, playing hopscotch, running and other similar movements all help children strengthen their bodies and avoid injury.
Our society needs to place more emphasis on physical activity with our children. If school budgets won't allow physical education classes, then the parents should be encouraging their children to get out and play rather than watching TV or playing video games. In fact, more parents should be outside with their children playing games and encouraging physical activity.
More physical activity will help lower the incidence of adult injuries in children that have been taking place more and more. Also, adolescents shouldn't specialize or focus on one sport until much later (junior or senior year of high school).
Parents, encourage your children to participate in a variety of sports throughout the year. It will help lower the chance of injury and burnout.
For more information about youth training, be sure to visit the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA).