Ask Dr. Skendzel: When Can My Child Safely Begin Sports?
Fitness habits start us on the road to a healthy active lifestyle. How early should parents start encouraging children in sports? Dr. Skendzel shares his thoughts about how parents can cultivate good health through activity.
“We know the health benefits of being active,” says sports medicine physician Dr. Jack Skendzel. “Parents can set the stage for an active life by creating positive expectations. Is your toddler fascinated by your exercise routine? Explaining that you exercise because it’s fun and healthful teaches your child to see activity from a positive perspective.
Understanding child’s development
“When children get older and express an interest in sports activities, I think it’s good for parents to maintain an emphasis on health and wellness—and I say this from the perspective of a sports medicine physician,” Dr. Skendzel continues. “I see a lot of overuse injuries in adolescence. I think parents have to be mindful that sometimes young athletes place demands on their bodies that exceed their bodies’ capabilities.
“Adolescents are still growing and they are skeletally immature. That makes them vulnerable to overuse injuries in sports. At Summit, we see overuse injuries in young athletes ranging from tendonitis and jumper’s knee, to patellofemoral syndrome and damaged growth plates. Certain sports, like gymnastics, dance, baseball, and softball, have particular risk of overuse injuries. I treat a lot of 11-, 12-, 13-, and 14-year-old dancers.”
Pressures of performance
Today, children are under pressure to win and to be the best, to train heavily and consistently, and to compete at a high level. Many play one sport all year, or they go from a spring sport to summer soccer and then football in the fall and hockey through the winter without a break.
Guidelines: When can my child safely begin sports?
Dr. Skendzel offers parents the following guidelines:
- “Be aware, and listen to the needs of your child—this goes for coaches as well as parents,” says Dr. Skendzel. “If a child has persistent pain, don’t ignore it. You may be able to resolve the problem through rest, with ice, and with safe anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen to treat pain. If the pain continues or is severe, get it checked out by a doctor on our sports medicine team.”
- Remember that young bodies are still growing and developing, and need to rest.
- If your child is in pain, or is slowing down or can’t compete at his or her usual level, that could be a sign of injury.
- “If a child is complaining about consistent pain, you should definitely call us,” says Dr. Skendzel. “We’d want to get X-rays to look at the bone and the growth plates. We want to evaluate the child’s strength and range of motion. We may be able to correct an overuse injury with rest. Some require a brace or physical therapy; others do need surgical treatment.”
“We all want to win and be great,” grins Dr. Skendzel. “But sometimes, we have to take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and make sure our children are taking a healthy approach to sports. Giving young athletes a break now when they need it helps to prevent further injury down the road.”
Additional resources for you:
- Watch video on the Effects of Playing the Same Sport All Year
- Check out article: When Should I See A Sports Medicine Specialist For An Injury?
- Check out our injury prevention QUICKGuides for sport-specific tips
- More on Summit’s Sports Medicine services
Sports medicine: Expert bone, joint, and muscle care
From Olympians to pro athletes to youth sports and those that just want to be more active – Summit Orthopedics delivers expert care by fellowship-trained sports medicine physicians. If you are recently injured or concerned about ongoing pain, Summit Orthopedics sports medicine specialists have the expertise to evaluate your discomfort and develop a plan to quickly and safely help you get back to being active.
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