Overuse injuries in youth athletics are on the rise, and a recent study out of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center states that female athletes are at a much higher risk.
The nationwide study looked at approximately 3,000 cases of repetitive strain injuries across 20 high school sports between 2006 and 2012. The top three sports for overuse injuries were girls' track and field, girls' field hockey and girls' lacrosse, in that order. The study also found that, although the most affected body parts varies by sport, the most common injuries occurred in the lower leg, the knee and the shoulder.
One reason overuse injuries are more likely to occur in high school athletes is because puberty is a crucial time for bone development, muscle strength and joint laxity. But the study suggests there may be a correlation between menstruation and nutrition creating higher injury risks for females specifically.
Dr. Derek Ochiai is a sports medicine surgeon in Arlington, Virginia. He says another contributing factor to the rise of overuse injuries in high school athletes is the increasing trend of specialization in a single sport at increasingly younger ages.
"Imagine if you're a softball pitcher, and you're just pitching over and over again," Ochiai says. "That's why they have pitch counts in little league and high school, because of the propensity to overload your joints by executing one motion over and over again."
He says that in his practice, he also sees a lot of repetitive strain injuries in soccer, gymnastics and ballet. One prevention method Ochiai recommends for youth athletes is to diversify the physical activities they participate in each year to spread the load across multiple joints and muscle groups instead of focusing on excelling in a single sport.
"I'm a big proponent of cross-training within sports," Ochiai says. "There are interconnections between [every] sport, and a lot of young men and women who are good at one sport are good at multiple sports because there's always some overlap, even though it's not exactly the same."
But if your child insists on specializing in one sport, the best method to prevent overuse injuries is to ensure he or she gets adequate amounts of rest and recovery to avoid putting too much strain on one particular muscle or joint.
"Soccer is like a year-round sport in our area," Ochiai gives as an example. "If you can have a time where you take [some time off]... so you build in some kind of rest period so your body can decompress a little bit—that would be helpful."