When Too Much Sports Practice Turns Bad

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Dr. Kevin Plancher

Overuse injuries occur over time from tiny traumas to the muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments. Common examples of overuse injuries include pitching elbow, tennis elbow, shin splints, jumper’s knee, Achilles tendinitis, runner’s knee and swimmer’s shoulder.

NEW YORK & GREENWICH, Conn. March 13, 2018

The old adage that “practice makes perfect� doesn’t take into account that too much practice can actually be a bad thing when it comes to sports, especially for young athletes, according to orthopaedic surgeon Kevin D. Plancher, MD, founder of Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.

According to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, overuse injuries comprise even more than the 50% of sports injuries commonly reported because many don’t result in time lost from the sport.

For young athletes especially, overuse injuries are highly common, according to Dr. Plancher. More than 44 million American children between 6 and 18 years old participate in some type of organized athletics, and the increasing competitiveness in sports at young ages means many are likely to deal with an overuse injury at some point, he says.

“Sports injuries are often broken into two types: acute and chronic or overuse injuries,� explains Dr. Plancher. “Acute injuries result from a single traumatic event, such as a fracture or tendon rupture, while overuse injuries occur over time from tiny traumas to the muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments.� Common examples of overuse injuries include pitching elbow, tennis elbow, shin splints, jumper’s knee, Achilles tendinitis, runner’s knee and swimmer’s shoulder.

Who gets overuse injuries?

If pain, fatigue, discomfort or restricted performance last for more than a few days, an overuse injury might be suspected. And while some people are simply more prone to overuse injuries because of an inherited risk, certain identifiable factors increase the chances you’ll develop such an injury, Dr. Plancher says. These include:

  • Age. “Children and teens are at higher risk because they’re growing and maturing rapidly and/or unevenly,â€� he notes.
  • Prior injuries
  • Lack of awareness of symptoms: “Some young athletes in particular may have no idea their symptoms signal an overuse injury,â€� Dr. Plancher says.
  • Intense training volume that leaves little time for rest or healing. “Playing the same sport all year long, instead of just for a season, is often too much for the body, leading to tissue breakdown,â€� he says.
  • Unsuitable equipment that doesn’t adequately support the activity at hand, such as running or ballet or improper use of weight training machines.

How to prevent overuse injuries

Diagnosing overuse injuries usually involves a physical exam and often includes tests such as x-rays, bone scans or MRI scans to visualize affected areas. Treatment typically includes a variety of measures, including cutting back the frequency or duration of an activity; icing affected areas; and taking anti-inflammatory medications.

Dr. Plancher, a Clinical Professor in Orthopaedics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, points out that it’s far wiser to prevent sports overuse injuries in the first place. How to accomplish this?

  • Get a pre-participation physical exam to screen for risk factors
  • Avoid specializing in one sport during childhood or early adolescence
  • Report all injuries and be aware of overuse injury symptoms
  • Limit the total amount of time engaging in one sports activity
  • Rest adequately between practices and competitions, ideally taking at least one day off per week from organized sports
  • Condition properly for your sport, including stretching and warm-up periods

“It’s wise for athletes to take a combined 6 weeks to 3 months off per year from a specific sport, even if that’s divided through the year in month-long periods,� Dr. Plancher says. “And don’t ramp up too quickly when a new sports season begins – take it slowly and cross-train to include multiple activities. By being prudent, athletes of all ages can stop overuse injuries from happening and enjoy their sports participation even more.�

Kevin D. Plancher, MD, MPH, is a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon and the founder of Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.

Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine is a comprehensive orthopaedics and sports medicine practice with offices in New York City and Greenwich, CT. http://www.plancherortho.com

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Bob Allen

Bob Allen

Bob Allen is The Daily Telescope''s senior editor. He is also a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and a bestselling author. He lives in Los Angeles and covers the intersection of money, politics and finance. He appears periodically on national television shows and has been published in (among others) The National Post, Politico, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Wired.com, Vice and Salon.com. He also has served as a journalist and consultant on documentaries for NPR and ShowTime. In 2014, he was the winner of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers' investigative journalism award, and the winner of the Izzy Award for Journalism from Ithaca College's Park Center for Independent Media. He was also a finalist for UCLA's Gerald R. Loeb Award and Syracuse University's Mirror Award. Before becoming a journalist in 2006, Sirota worked in Washington for, among others, U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee Minority Staff and the Center for American Progress.