A Cautionary Tale About Sports and Children

The Los Angeles Times has published a blockbuster story about what happens when a parent pushes a child too far in the pursuit of sports glory. The tale is a harrowing account of a father’s pride, and how those expectations led one very young athlete to push his body past the point of no return, and into a dangerous zone:

His son Aidan has been in almost constant pain for several years after being diagnosed with a disease partially caused by being pushed to play sports through injury and affliction. At one point he thought about suicide. Today he feels lucky if he can physically show up for high school baseball practice.

This is an extreme example, of course. But it is instructive as a portrait of our influence over young people, and how powerful the pressure can be from a parent to overcome pain and disappointment in search of a win:

Aidan eventually played three sports, all with his father on the sidelines or in the stands, which meant they could spend eight hours a day together on various fields throughout the Southland while Rebecca and Cullen’s other son Beckett, now 14, stayed home. Aidan was becoming a neighborhood star, but the cost was slowly growing.

Alas, a terrifying diagnosis was just around the corner.

By the spring of his junior year, he was finally diagnosed with a neurological disorder called Central Pain Syndrome, a condition in which damage to the central nervous system can cause constant pain. Doctors told Cullen that one of the causes may have been that Aidan constantly played hurt.

As a pediatric orthopedist, I have seen several variations on this story over the years. The notion that toughness or grit should supercede the body’s own pain response is a dangerous one, and it can claim the athletic careers of very young people, very quickly.

If you want better advice about how to cycle through activities, get rest, and let your kids be kids – even the high-achieving ones – please don’t hesitate to contact sports medicine expert Dr. William Holland today.

The Full Guide to Preventing Sports Injuries in Kids

The NIH periodically updates some of its most-referenced documents on pediatric prevention and care. This page is widely considered the gold standard in vetted and conservative recommendations for young athletes.

A quick glance at the page reveals its value: summary overviews of several injury types which are common to young people, including growth plate injuries, sprains, broken bones, and repetitive motion. Several of these are especially likely to strike three-season athletes or anyone focused on a single high-level sport to the exclusion of other activities.

The page also makes a clear distinction between minor bruises which can benefit from RICE therapy, and more serious injuries that require the intervention of a pediatric orthopedist such as myself:

Get professional treatment if any injury is severe. A severe injury means having an obvious fracture or dislocation of a joint, prolonged swelling, or prolonged or severe pain.

Kids know their own bodies best, but they aren’t always the best sources for candid information about pain. Try your best to open an honest dialogue about what hurts and how much, and you can prevent minor issues from blossoming into chronic conditions as your child enters adolescence and beyond.

Listen to Your Pediatric Orthopedist: Sports Can Harm

Sports are great. They encourage teamwork, foster competitive verve, and teach kids the many good lessons of winning and losing with dignity. Sports also help to further developmental skills and instill a lasting appreciation for the value of discipline. Also, they’re fun.

But sports can be dangerous as well. Some of the most common youth sports have a tendency to cause lasting injuries. As a coach or parent, it is your job to learn and remember the signs of common sports injuries, the better to minimize their impact and enhance your charges’ recovery.

Recently I came across a page that outlines some of the more common youth injuries in sports, as well as what is at stake:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 2.6 million children 0 to 19 years old are treated in the emergency department each year for sports- and recreation-related injuries.

The list includes many repetitive stress injuries such as periostitis (shin splints), growth plate injuries, and the various causes and symptoms of hairline fractures in overworked athletes.

If your child is complaining of chronic pain after engaging in youth sports, it’s time to step back and take a breather. For a full diagnostic workup and expert recommendations, set your appointment with the San Diego Orthopedic Surgery Center today.

Counterpoint: Football and Childhood Injuries

It’s not uncommon patients express shock these days at the very idea of letting a child play football these days. Given all we have learned about the risks of strain, overspecialization, and concussions, why would anyone still send their kids to Pop Warner?

Recently the Huffington Post offered a few reasons, in what amounts to a broad counterpoint to many prevailing sentiments. The main point is that football players suffer fewer injuries than basketball players, and that concussions are common in soccer as well. The author also sees fit to mention that kickers and punters don’t get hit very much – not much of an argument, because neither do fans.

So was I convinced? Not really. There is a ceiling on the effectiveness of any argument that effectively amounts to, “Yeah, but them too.” More to the point, simply counting injuries isn’t nearly as valuable as assessing how serious they are. Football still leads the pack in real danger because of the potential lifelong impact of concussions.

The author does make one reasonable point, namely that football gets more dangerous as you grow, so younger kids are unlikely to absorb the tremendous force of their grown counterparts:

If force is mass times acceleration, then the force in youth football is disproportionate to that of the NFL. They are not being hit by the best athletes in the world. They are being hit by their peers, most of whom won’t even play high school football. They are not being hit by JJ Watt; they’re being hit by JJ from math class in practice. And let’s face it, your kid probably isn’t going to play in the NFL, so the threat of them being hit by JJ Watt isn’t real.

Very young kids aren’t likely to be seriously harmed by playing football. But older kids are, and adults are nearly certain to.

The choice to play football belongs to each individual family. But as a pediatric orthopedist, my job is to be clear with patients about the risks of any sport. When it comes to football, the risks are real.

NBA To Kids: Play More Than One Sport

Over-specialization among young athletes is a frequent topic on this blog. As more kids engage the same sport year-round, the repetitious nature of that activity can lead to a spike in stress injuries and asymmetrical development.

It bears repeating that when kids do just one thing all the time, they place themselves at risk for the kind of sports-specific traumas that professional athletes face. Intensive training should belong to several activities, not just one.

The NBA seems to agree, as they recently issued a new set of guidelines for young players:

The guidelines, co-authored by USA Basketball, pushed three main points:

Delay single-sports specialization in basketball until age 14 or older.
Limit high-density scheduling based on age-appropriate guidelines.
Ensure rest from organized basketball at least one day per week, extended time away from organized basketball each year and adequate sleep each night.

Kids need space to rest, grow, and thrive. Mixing up their athletics is a key to cultivating a healthy and broad-based physical development. If you have questions about how much is too much among young athletes, contact the San Diego Orthopedic Surgery Center today.

Avoiding Orthopedic Injuries in Young Athletes

As a specialist in pediatric orthopedic care, I field a lot of questions about how to treat and prevent sports injuries in young athletes.

It is an evergreen topic, especially as our nation’s athletic organizations seem to push ever younger in their search for greatness and marketability. The pressure faced by youth athletes in basketball, baseball, and tennis, just to name a few, is considerably greater than it was just a few years ago before the sports media began focusing so closely on its farm system.

If you have a child who practices all day and excels at competition, you are likely looking for ways to protect his or her body as it grows and matures – and to prevent the kind of injury which could derail the whole effort before it really gets underway. One easy way to keep your kids safe: watch out for signs of overuse:

An overuse injury is an injury to a bone or muscle that develops over time as the tissue undergoes repetitive stress and is not given enough time to heal and recover. Growing tissue in children and adolescents makes them susceptible to overuse injuries, and they can develop specific injuries not seen in adults with fully mature bodies. In fact, about half of all sports injuries in young athletes are from overuse.

These subtle injuries can quickly graduate to full-blown crises, which is why it is essential to rest and restore often. Young athletes need a few months off each year from a given sport, and their repetitive activities such be delimited as much as possible to encourage variation and stretching.

To begin a consultation with an expert in sports medicine for kids here in San Diego, contact AOSM today.

Pediatric Orthopedic Treatment for a Star Athlete

I enjoy sharing stories such as this one, which help to underline the many ways that pediatric orthopedists such as myself can improve the lives of young athletes.

Watch the video and you’ll see how the young patient in question managed to excel despite a significant curvature in his spine, a condition known as adolescent scoliosis. With the help of digital mapping and modern surgical techniques, the patient underwent a precision orthopedic surgical procedure and came out on the other side with improved symmetry – and greater comfort.

It’s just one example of the positive effects that expert orthopedic care can have on young athletes and injured children here in San Diego and across the country.

If your child has suffered an injury or disease that has left a lasting mark on their bone development or musculature, it’s wise to speak with an experienced orthopedist sooner rather than later. Contact my practice today for a full diagnostic session.

New Guidelines Coming in Pediatric Orthopedics

Scoliosis has been a scourge of pediatric orthopedics for hundreds of years, but it wasn’t until recently that the full ebenfit of early detection could be measured. Now that we have better data, it seems likely that pediatricians and pediatric orthopedic specialists, will receive new guidance on the use of detection and bracing in young patients:

Early detection of scoliosis is mandatory in order to offer patients nonoperative methods to prevent progression of the condition. Nonoperative management is preferred by patients when there is a reasonable chance of success. Over two thirds of the patients in the patient preference arm of the BrAIST preferred bracing over observation. We can offer nonoperative treatment for idiopathic scoliosis only when detected in the mild to moderate stage, which is why early recognition and diagnosis is important,” Hresko told Spine Surgery Today.

It is an interesting dichotomy in pediatric orthopedics: some disorders demand a wait-and-see approach, while others demand the earliest possible intervention. In scoliosis, when bones are still growing, corrective measures can have a salutary effect down the line, not unlike braces for teeth.

Whether your child is suffering from a chronic orthopedic condition or an injury in need of expert treatment, we can help. Contact Dr. Bill Holland at the American Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center today.