435 Magazine: Youth athletes' injuries increase along with their dreams of scholarships or going pro
They suffer twisted pelvises, fractured growth plates, knee and elbow injuries that can lead to extensive surgeries, hip misalignments, concussions, back and ankle injuries, you name it. Playing sports can definitely wreak havoc on the bodies of young athletes.
For many, the injuries are worth it.
“I’ve just always danced,” says Natalya Knoke, 14, of Liberty, who in May suffered a leg injury as she prepared to go to a national dance competition and varsity dance camp. “When other things come up, all I want to do is dance. I feel really happy when I’m doing it. I was really upset because I missed out on a few of my favorite things.”
Trey Ziegenbein, 18, of Blue Springs, who has played baseball since he was a 5-year-old T-ball player, has undergone two Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgeries in his pitching arm. Despite this, he’s never burned out on the sport he loves.
“Even with all this physical therapy over the past couple of years, it still hasn’t grown old,” he says, adding that after he takes a year off to recuperate, he plans to be back on the mound.
Experts say the number of sports-related injuries in kids is rising. While it’s true that playing sports can be extremely good for kids, leading to less obesity, greater self-confidence, and teamwork and leadership skills, statistics show that as many as 4 in 10 emergency room visits for children between 5 and 14 years old are for sports-related injuries. Research also shows that girls who play basketball and soccer suffer more concussions than boys do.
It didn’t use to be this way. Youth sports in America has changed in the last 40 years, when young children played a friendly “pick-up” game of baseball or basketball at the neighborhood park. Now the term “sports specialization” is a common term, referring to young athletes often beginning their competitive sports careers as early as age 7, if not sooner. They play primarily one sport and stick to it, heightening the chance of injury because of repetitive motions the sport requires.
Jason Yoder, physical therapy manager at Children’s Mercy’s Sports Medicine Center, says kids who play baseball are getting fractures earlier and earlier, noting that what he used to see in a 16- and 17-year-old, he’s now seeing in a 10- and 11-year-old. Knee injuries are huge in soccer, particularly for females because of their bodies’ mechanical makeup. Gymnastics and cheerleading injuries include those to the back, ankles and hips.
“We’ve had 13-year-olds who have had Tommy John surgeries,” Yoder says. “They’re 13, and they’ll never pitch again. We’ve had several of those. We’ve had some really bad knee injuries — ACL injuries — where they just can’t ever go back to their sport again in high school.”
Greg Canty, medical director at Children’s Mercy’s Sports Medicine, Center cites fear of missing out — FOMO — for the pressure young kids have for starting their athletic careers so early. He says at least 50 percent of sports injuries in junior high athletes are related to overuse because of sports specialization. In addition to injuries, young athletes who specialize too soon my become socially isolated or feel a loss of control over their lives.
“If you look at young athletes today, they’re under quite a bit of pressure,” Canty says. “They start playing earlier and earlier because they fear they’re going to miss out on their chance of success. It’s the ‘If I don’t start training at 5, then there’s no way I’m going to get a college scholarship at 19.’ But that’s not true. If you look at the number of athletes who get college scholarships, they’re miniscule. People who have already made it through the sport and are already a varsity athlete, 1 percent get a college scholarship. So that number’s already skewed because you’re not going to get a college scholarship. You should play because you enjoy the sport.”
Read the full article via 435 Magazine.
Learn more about the Sports Medicine Center at Children's Mercy.