As an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine, I have been alarmed at the increase in the number of injuries suffered by young athletes in the Charleston area. Recently, several sports medicine organizations joined forces to develop the STOP Sports Injuries campaign, aimed at reducing the number of injuries suffered by young athletes. Pediatric and adolescent sports injuries and injury prevention have always been passions of mine, so I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to discuss the campaign.

The increasing importance of sports in kids’ lives

Sports have always been an integral part of the development of the nation’s youth. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association estimates that between six and seven million high-school students participate in school-sponsored athletics, and approximately 20 million athletes between the ages of 6 and 16 participate in sports in general. However, sports seem to be evolving into the primary focus of many young athletes’ lives. Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, a psychiatrist specializing in adolescents, notes that structured sports time has doubled over the last 20 years, while in that same time, family dinners have been cut by one third, and family vacations have decreased 28 percent. Along the same lines, the NATA has calculated that a young athlete spends an average of 326 hours of practice time under the supervision of a coach during one season, often far exceeding the amount spent with teachers.

ACL tears are common sports injuries

Rising rates of youth sports injuries

While no one questions the numerous positive aspects of sports in the lives of young athletes, it is becoming evident that it can have drawbacks as well. The volume of training performed by many of these young athletes is increasing faster than their growing bodies are able to handle it. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, over 3.5 million children aged 14 and younger are treated for sports injuries each year, and nearly half of the injuries suffered by middle- and high-school athletes are overuse injuries. Renowned orthopaedic sports medicine surgeon Dr. James Andrews points out that surgeons see four times as many overuse injuries in youth sports compared to five years ago. The Positive Coaching Alliance notes a similar increase in overuse injuries and goes further, claiming that half of all pediatric sports injuries are related to burn out. For those coaches and parents who don’t believe that their children or players won’t be affected, the NATA has shown that girls involved in organized sports have an estimated injury rate of 20 to 22 per 100 participants per season, while boys have a risk of 39 per 100 participants per season.

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Overuse injury in youth sports

While these statistics are alarming, another one might provide some degree of comfort. The American College of Sports Medicine estimates that 50 percent of overuse injuries in children and adolescents are preventable. For this reason, the STOP (Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention) Sports Injuries campaign was launched. The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine joined forces with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Safe Kids USA, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, the Sports Physical Therapy Section, and the National Strength and Conditioning Association to slow the epidemic of preventable youth sports injuries. The initiative has also created a Council of Champions, which includes famous former and current athletes such as Hank Aaron, Bo Jackson, Bonnie Blair, Jack Nicklaus, Howie Long, Bart Starr, Sam Bradford, and John Smoltz, among many others, to spread the campaign’s message.

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Overuse accounts for a large percentage of youth sports injuries.

The need to educate parents, coaches and young athletes

STOP Sports Injuries is a campaign to help educate athletes, coaches, parents, and health care professionals about overuse and traumatic sports injuries, long-term consequences of youth sports injuries, and proper injury treatment and prevention. Our comprehensive website details how coaches and parents can do their part, and information regarding injuries and their treatment and methods of prevention are given for a multitude of sports. For example, cheerleaders and coaches are advised of restrictions for performing stunts, including height of pyramids, a thrower-flyer ratio for a basket toss, and minimum number of spotters for lifts and tosses. Football players and their coaches and parents are offered information regarding knee, ankle, and shoulder injuries, concussions, and heat illness. Pitch counts, age recommendations for various pitches, and rest periods are advised to prevent overuse injuries to the shoulder and elbow in baseball.

For a campaign such as this one to be successful, it requires cooperation and support from everyone involved in youth sports. The STOP Sports Injuries campaign is targeting parents, coaches and trainers, healthcare providers, and young athletes. Therefore, we are asking everyone to take The Pledge, and there is a different one on our website for each of these target groups. Please take this opportunity to take The Pledge and help to spread the campaign’s message. Together, we can make this effort a success – to keep kids healthy and on the playing field and out of the operating room.