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The Youth Sports Injury Epidemic

Youth sports injuries across the board have skyrocketed to astronomical values in recent years, affecting athletes of all ages and sports. Here are some numbers to illustrate just how bad things have gotten:

Shoulder and elbow injuries in both softball and baseball players have increased five times what they used to be in 2000 (Youth Sports Injuries Statistics, n.d).

Research suggests that “15-19 year-olds accounted for 56.7 percent of the Ulnar Collateral Ligament Reconstruction (UCLR) or Tommy John surgeries performed in the U.S. between 2007 and 2011. This is a significant increase over time with an average increase of 9.12 percent per year” (Weisenberger, 2015).

The number of ACL reconstructions performed in the United States in patients younger than 20 years old rose approximately 47 percent from 1994 to 2006 (Mall et al., 2014).

There is an increase in the number of athletes who specialize in their sport during youth, despite increases in injury risk and decreases in enjoyment and satisfaction (Jayanthi et al., 2012).

This is not a comprehensive list of all of the injury trends affecting young athletes today, but it is indicative of the direction we are heading as a society.

Dr. Tommy John, a chiropractor out of San Diego, wrote a great book called Minimize Injury, Maximize Performance, and I believe every athlete, parent, and coach should read this book to further educate themselves on this subject matter. With that said, Dr. John attributes the increases in injuries to a few different factors:

Technology and the current sedentary lifestyles (John, T., D.C., et al., 2018).

The youth sports industry and pressure to train and specialize early (John, T., D.C., et al., 2018).

Lack of quality nourishment from poor sources of food and liquids (John, T., D.C., et al., 2018).

Inadequate physical preparation, with a majority of training occurring as either skill development or strength and power development at the expense of quality movement (John, T., D.C., et al., 2018).

I agree with much of the information he is trying to spread to the masses, as I feel that as a society we do a poor job of prioritizing long-term health and wellness over short-term Band-Aid solutions. Primarily because we are more interested in maximizing short-term output as opposed to long-term development.

I think this can be seen across the health and wellness sector as a whole, including pharmaceutical companies, health and wellness practitioners, and policy makers in addition to those in performance and training professions. This is evident regarding uses of pharmaceutical drugs to reduce symptoms at the expense of health, applications of in-game methods like taping and icing to reduce pain just so kids can remain on the field or court, and therapy sectors like “soft-tissue release” that reduce symptoms in the short-term, but rarely not provide a true solution to the problem. Despite the negative outlook, I do believe this a preventable issue, and one that can be combatted with actionable changes and a commitment to a long-term outlook.

First and foremost, we need to begin to address the shortcomings of the modern lifestyle. This includes everything ranging from poor nutrition and hydration, lack of quality sleep, overstimulation from technology and emotional stress, and lack of quality movement. The goal is not to perfect all of these lifestyle influences, but, instead, to look to reduce the negative consequences that these poor lifestyle habits have on our health and well-being. Here are five simple lifestyle changes that can quickly enhance quality of life, and I use a majority of the time myself:

Get a minimum of seven and a half hours of sleep each night.

Eat more colorful, fresh, quality foods.

Reduce the amount of time you spend using technological devices.

Create processes, or support structures, to appropriately cope with any emotionally stressful situations.

Find something that enables you to move more while doing something you enjoy in a safe environment.

These are all incredible simple solutions that will have a massive influence on quality of life, health, and well-being. This is where I would recommend all individuals begin, and from there you can continue to add small details to continue to improve your personal life.

Additionally, physical education needs to become a high priority for all people, and especially kids who are still in their developmental years. Environments that involve free play are not as readily available as they used to be, so kids need to be encouraged to create these environments to learn how to move and control their bodies in space. We also need to train athletes such that preparation for their sport exceeds the demands of competition. Early specialization has increased in recent years without appropriate attention being paid to general development. This would be like teaching students to do calculus and algebra without first teaching them how to count, add, and subtract; or like teaching students to write paragraphs without first addressing the alphabet and basic grammatical principles. Preparation should always exceed expected performance, and this has become a problem in the youth sports performance industry that needs to be addressed before injury rates will begin to decrease.

To sum it all up, we need to start prioritizing long-term development over short-term performance, and allow kids to develop sequentially before throwing them into environments with such high demands. This is not the responsibility of any one person or figure, but the first step that needs to take place before any major change can be made is proper education, and that is the goal of this post. Take care of your body, and maintain a long-term outlook! As the popular cliché goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” And similarly, the Roman Empire fell because they began to prioritize short-term gains over long-term progress. Learn from others’ mistakes so you do not have to face similar consequences!

References

Jayanthi, N., Pinkham, C., Dugas, L., Patrick, B., & Labella, C. (2012). Sports Specialization in

Young Athletes. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 5(3), 251-257.

doi:10.1171941738112464626

Mall, N., Chalmers, P., Moric, M., Tanaka, M. J., Cole, B. J., Paletta, G. A., & Bach, B. R. (2014).

Incidence and Trends of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction in the United States.

The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 42(10). doi:10.1177/0363546514542796

John, T., D.C., Murphy, M., & John, T., Jr. (2018). Minimize Injury, Maximize Performance: A

Sports Parent's Survival Guide. New York, NY: Da Capo Press.

Weisenberger, Lisa. (2015). Tommy John Surgeries Increasing for Youth Athletes. American

Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. Retrieved October 30, 2018 from

https://www.stopsportsinjuries.org/members/downloads/media/EricksonUCLRTrendsUS.pdf.

Youth Sports Injuries Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2018, from

https://www.stopsportsinjuries.org/STOP/Resources/Statistics/STOP/Resources/Statisti

cs.aspx?hkey=24daffdf-5313-4970-a47d-ed621dfc7b9b.

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