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Pediatric Sports Injuries

Posted: February 7, 2024
By: Dr. Drew Rubin & Amy Richmond

Of all the reported sports-related injuries that present to the emergency room each year, approximately 40% are attributed to patients aged 5-14 years.1-2 While this accounts for only the most severe case (e.g. fractures, concussions, dislocations, etc), it demonstrates a rising trend that sports injuries are occurring in high rates at all levels, not just the high school, college, and professional levels. Kids of elementary and middle school age who are participating in recreational and travel league athletics are just as susceptible to injury as any adult athlete.

Kids playing sports are also at risk of the same injuries as any adult athlete (e.g. tendonitis, ligament tears, meniscus/cartilage injuries, concussions, muscle strains, etc.)3-4, but they can additionally present with their own set of health challenges and risks due to their immature skeleton. For example, youth athletes are uniquely at risk for injuries to the growth plates or the areas of their bones that are responsible for lengthening and ossifying the bones in their body as they reach full size. Damage to the growth plates can result in premature closing of the growth plates and other long-term complications. Youth athletes are most at-risk during growth spurts when the growth plate is its most fragile.1-5 Unfortunately, most athletes both begin competitive sport and start sport specialization during the times of growth spurts, ages 5 and 12-15 respectively.

We must also remember that no part of the body grows at the same rate. At some points during development, the head and trunk are out of proportion with the arms and legs. When kids are introduced to the same types of training as adults, their bodies are biomechanically not able to withstand the same forces. This can increase the risk of overuse injuries, especially when kids are subjected to specialized skill training.1-2 Overuse injuries in childhood without proper rest and healing time can lead an athlete to a lifetime of injury challenges such as early arthritis, cartilage damage, and ligamentous laxity.5

The good news is that with proper care including chiropractic, rest, and monitoring kids can have long athletic careers. Sport participation has been shown to have significant positive influences on socialization and interpersonal skills, mental health, self-efficacy, self-worth, and creating long-term healthy habits.6-7  It is never our goal to discourage sport participation, but to educate parents and families that as with all things, there are risks. However, with the right care team in place, (especially a certified pediatric chiropractor), your child can participate in the sports that they love for as long as they choose.

  1. Maffulli N, Caine D. The Epidemiology of Children's Team Sports Injuries. Med Sport Sci. 2005;49:1-8. doi:10.1159/000085330
  2. Caine DJ, Maffulli N. Epidemiology of children's individual sports injuries. An important area of medicine and sport science research. Med Sport Sci. 2005;48:1-7. doi:10.1159/000084274
  3. Wild JT, Kamani YV, Bryan JM, Hartman TN, Spirov LM, Patel NM. Timeout? The Epidemiology of Pediatric Sports Injuries During the COVID-19 Pandemic. J Am Acad Orthop Surg Glob Res Rev. 2022;6(4):e21.00092. Published 2022 Apr 8. doi:10.5435/JAAOSGlobal-D-21-00092
  4. Zaremski JL, Zeppieri G Jr, Tripp BL. Sport Specialization and Overuse Injuries in Adolescent Throwing Athletes: A Narrative Review. J Athl Train. 2019;54(10):1030-1039. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-333-18
  5. Samet JD. Pediatric Sports Injuries. Clin Sports Med. 2021;40(4):781-799. doi:10.1016/j.csm.2021.05.012
  6. Hosker DK, Elkins RM, Potter MP. Promoting Mental Health and Wellness in Youth Through Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Sleep. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2019;28(2):171-193. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2018.11.010
  7. Carbone PS, Smith PJ, Lewis C, LeBlanc C. Promoting the Participation of Children and Adolescents With Disabilities in Sports, Recreation, and Physical Activity. Pediatrics. 2021;148(6):e2021054664. doi:10.1542/peds.2021-054664
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