When I was young, I was privileged to grow up with many boys and girls who were extremely athletic. We ran and played ball as much as we could and one thing that stands out in my memory is that none of us ever complained of being injured. Never did any one of my teammates complain of shoulder or knee pain and no one ever needed surgery. As kids, we never rested but we did play a variety of sports. From the spring until the end of the summer, we played baseball every day, all day. As soon as the fall came,our gloves and bats were put away and we played football until it snowed. In the winter, we played basketball, bowled or ran indoor track. And when the snow melted and the birds came out, we dusted off our gloves and bats and resumed playing baseball.
However, recently there has been a shift in the approach to youth athletics and participation in sports. This shift has led to many overuse injuries in a vulnerable population. These injuries do not have to happen; they are the byproduct of a single–minded focus on participation in one sport to the exclusion of all other activity. Playing one sport twelve months per year is too much for a growing athlete. In fact, it is even too much for an adult professional athlete. Professional athletes rest after their seasons are over; they have to. They NEED to recover. I have treated many athletes in my clinic that are young people suffering the consequences of over–training in one sport throughout the year. My advice to them is always to make time for recovery or your body will break down and force you to rest.
The human body reacts to stress from the day we are born until the day we die. That is how we grow, become resilient and stay strong. Our muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones react to movement and gravity and this allows us to perform normal movement patterns during sports and during the activities of daily living. Movement is an essential part of a healthy life. However, the body also responds negatively to repeated movement patterns that do not change and which over stress our soft tissues. These tissues eventually sustain injury by straining, spraining or breaking. This is of particular concern for adolescentsbecause their bodies are growing and changing every day.
Passive rest is one of the solutions. Take a break, and give the body a chance to repair and heal itself. Active rest isanother option. That involves playing a different sport and allowing the body to rest by changing movement patterns and creating new challenges for the body. Another form of active rest involves training by working out at the gym to increase strength and flexibility, which will enhance athletic performance during sport.
Only seven percent of high school athletes will go on to play college sports. And two percent of those few will participate at the Division 1 level. Positions on these teams are limited and the physical toll that participation at this level exacts from young athletes may not be worth it. Many of these young athletes will suffer a lifetime of pain from sport specialization. As a community, we need to give children and young athletes a chance to comfortably grow into their growing bodies without injury. No sport needs to be played twelve months per year.
Dr. Lee Day is the owner of Hat City Physical Therapy. He is a Certified Athletic Trainer, certified strength and conditioning specialist, certified ITPT, ITAT concussion specialist through IMPACT and certified CPR and first aid instructor. He has bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in Physical Therapy, and a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology. Dr. Lee has over 35 years of orthopedic and sports medicine experience with many professional, college, high school and little league athletes.
For any questions or assistance with your needs, please contact Dr. Lee at 203-748-4278, Hat City Physical Therapy.