Overuse Injuries: How parents can watch for the signs in their children

During the recent U.S. Club Soccer webinar I participated in, I was asked this question by the host:

“What advice would you give to a parent of a youth soccer player regarding being proactive or reactive to injuries and overall health?”

The question was specific to soccer, but the point I make here is applicable to all sports. By far and away the area where we can have the greatest impact with a sport that’s in-season is in monitoring for overuse injuries.

It’s easy to think that every moment of practice and playing time is critical as a player approaches the end of the regular season and preps for playoffs. However, this is a time when overuse injuries  can add up and affect performance, or possibly lead to a prolonged period of pain.

Watch for signs of overuse injury

I’d love for you to be on the lookout for signs of physical over-training that can lead to overuse injuries. The kids are in school now, there are huge influences in their lives in terms of academics and in terms of their social life -- and of course their athletic life as well. The combination of these things can lead to a lot of stress. The stress can be psychological and the stress can also be physical. Here are some things to look for:

•  If the young athlete consistently needs bags of ice after practices and games or they need Advil or ibuprofen before games -- those are signs that overuse may be taking place and it’s good to keep a close eye on these. Rest if you can.

•  Watch them warmup before a game. This is an invaluable time to watch for issues with their movement, speed, and agility. If you notice things out of the ordinary (you know their movement better than anyone …) it would be a good time for a chat with the young player. Again, intervention in terms of rest can definitely have a positive impact and not necessarily jeopardize chances of playing in the postseason.

•  Watch performance during a game. This is another outstanding time to observe for issues with speed and agility. With an overuse injury the athlete will typically show some signs of reduced speed or poor agility. In throwing sports you may notice a loss of accuracy. In timed sports the participant’s times will worsen. If the issue is particularly off from baseline it would be wise to seek professional evaluation from an athletic trainer, physical therapist, or sports medicine physician.

Every athlete wants to participate in his/her team’s postseason, and to be able to perform at their best. Help them out by being on the lookout for signs of overuse and intervene early to give them the best chance at success.

Key Points:

As the fall regular season winds down for many sports and players prepare for playoffs, overuse injuries can occur.

Parents and coaches can watch for overuse injuries by looking for specific signs before and during practice or competition.

Early intervention from an athletic trainer, physical therapist, or sports physician can often improve the condition before the start of playoffs.

(Dr. Dev K. Mishra, a Clinical Assistant Professor of orthopedic surgery at Stanford University, is the creator of the online injury-management course, now a requirement for US Club Soccer coaches and staff members. Mishra writes about injury recognition and management at Blog, where this article first appeared.

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