It is no secret that children are becoming involved in high-level training and sports at younger ages than previously. Kids are also beginning to specialize in their chosen sports at younger ages than earlier generations. There are many potential consequences to this trend, both positive and negative. One of these is a higher injury rate for young athletes.This is particularly true of shoulder and elbow injuries.
The statistics on injuries to young athletes (under 18) in this age of increased specialization and training are startling. This is especially true when it comes to elbow injuries. For example, since 2000, there has been a fivefold increase in the number of serious shoulder and elbow injuries among youth baseball and softball players. Additionally, more than a third of children ages eight to 14 will have arm pain during a single youth baseball season.
Not only is the number of injuries increasing, but so is their severity. According to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM), young athletes are experiencing injuries traditionally seen in adults at increasingly younger ages.
Physiotherapists and sports medicine professionals are in a unique and critical position to help curb the tide of increasing rates of elbow injuries among young athletes. We suggest below three ways for young athletes to recover from elbow injuries or prevent them in the first place.
As we mentioned above, sporting injuries are on the rise for young athletes. Overuse injuries, especially to the elbow, are a main culprit. There are two main ways to prevent and recover from these injuries. One of these is cross-training and another is rest, which we will cover in detail in the next section.
Elbow injuries from overuse, such as strains, tears and sprains, occur when young athletes participate in a sport in which repetitive motions cause increasing stress on the joint, such as pitching a baseball or shooting a basketball. This leads to inflammation, pain and a lack of mobility. These issues, if not addressed with short and long term solutions, can plague a young athlete into their adult years.
Cross training, including strength training, cardio and plyometrics, helps to reduce the stress on the elbow while improving overall conditioning. This is also true of rotating positions played on a team. Encourage them to increase cross-training in an effort to prevent and recover from elbow injuries attributed to overuse.
Rest is the second of the two-part recipe young athletes can follow to prevent elbow injuries caused by overuse. It’s a key factor when recovering from injury as well. The elbow requires time away from the stresses of the repetitive motions required by sports. However, rest for a young athlete is even more important because of a perception that they may be losing ground to their rivals while they rest.
The simple act of resting the elbow can help a young athlete remain healthy and active into adulthood due to several factors. One of these is that the body of a young athlete is still growing. Consequently, major stress on the elbow when it is not fully formed can lead to permanent damage. Rest allows the elbow to heal and grow properly.
As was mentioned previously, resting is not as easy as it sounds to a young athlete. It is important to explain the long term benefits of rest. Additionally, the athletes should be aware of alternatives to constant training during the rest period. These activities can include gentle activity like gentle yoga or walking, breathing exercises, stretching and visualization. These activities include rest but also maintain a level of activity and focus on their particular sport.
Orthopedic Supports and Braces For Elbow Injuries
There are many other factors when it comes to helping young athletes avoid elbow injuries in particular, including practicing proper technique and wearing the right equipment. However, if they actually suffer an elbow injury, an elbow brace could be an excellent way to help these athletes recover.
Orthopedic braces can help young athletes with elbow injuries in several ways. In the short term they reduce inflammation and pain while helping support and heal the injured areas. Over the long term, they can help the athlete by increasing mobility and range of motion while promoting proper technique. These factors are important to a young athlete with an elbow injury. Their bodies are still growing together with their knowledge of a particular sport. The multiple purposes of braces and other supports, such as athletic tape, make them excellent options to include in any prevention or recovery plan for young athletes.
In prescribing an orthopaedic support to a young athlete, it is important to take account of their faster growth rate. Sports medicine professionals must also be ready to explain the risks and benefits of these supports. The patient will also need to know how to properly use and maintain their supports.