Youth Sports: Avoid Overuse & Prevent Osteoarthritis


Dive head first into the right of passage of 2014 youth sports!


Playing a sport is a a right of passage when you are a child, but today, youth sports are starting younger and getting more competitive than ever before. It is estimated that 30 million children and adolescents participate in sports each year and 70% of children between the ages of 5 and 17 will play at least one team sport. The peak ages of sports participation is between 13 and 14 years old. There are many health and social benefits to sports, but there are also problems, including sport-related injury which can have a long-lasting impact. In fact, 3 ½ million children and teens will visit the emergency room with a sports-related injury annually.

But aren’t sports supposed to be healthy? Yes, but they should be approached with caution and it should be kept in mind that sports are supposed to be fun. Along with an increase in youth sport participation there also appears to be an increase in pressure to be highly competitive. As a result, kids are playing one or more sports year round, ignoring pain, and minimizing injuries to “get back in the game.” This makes them more vulnerable to both overuse and impact injuries.

What does all of this overuse and injury mean to young, developing bodies? Injury during youth sports can increase the risk of knee, hip and ankle Osteoarthritis in adulthood. In fact, the risk of developing Osteoarthritis of the knee following an ACL injury is 50%.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a painful disease that effects more than 27 million Americans. It is the leading cause of disability in the US and the most common type of arthritis. By age 40, 90% of all people will have some level of OA in their weight bearing joints. OA occurs when the cartilage that acts as a cushion around the joint becomes thinner and rougher causing the bones to eventually rub against each other.

Being overweight, age, family history, being female, and damage to tissues secondary to sports or other injury are all factors that contribute to the development to OA. Though there are several risk factors that contribute to OA, managing the intensity of participation in sports and preventing sports injuries as much parents can, goes a long way.

It is the responsibility of parents and guardians to keep the young athletes grounded and remember that sports are a healthy form of exercise and a great way to learn about teamwork. Having fun and staying fit is where it should begin and end. There are certainly many talented youths who can go far in their sport and have many doors open because of it, but not at the risk of their health and well being.

• Exercise is certainly a preventative factor in OA. It is the sports injury that increases risk. Keep in mind that soccer, football, weight lifting, and rugby carry the highest risk for knee injury particularly among female athletes.
• Exercise regularly but avoid REPETITIVE stress on the joints. Alternate between a few different sports if you’re going to play all year long. Focus on proper technique in sports and cross-training.
• Collectively take 10 weeks off of all sports each year.
• Listen to your pain and take time to recover from injury or strain. Pain is your body’s signal that you are overdoing it. Previous joint injury is a common cause of OA because the improper alignment that results from injury wears away at the cartilage once sports resume. Make sure you seek proper treatment and allow for a full recovery before returning to the sport.
• Realzie how important health & nutrition are. Being even 10 pounds overweight increases force on the knee by 30 to 40 pounds with each step taken increasing the risk of injury.

Staying active in sports is a great thing for our children and exercise prevents many health problems. Yet we need to be aware that some sports carry a greater risk of injury to joints than others. Knee injury prevention and proper medical management post-injury may go a long way in preventing the pain and debilitation of OA in the future.