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Shoulder overuse injuries are becoming more prevalent as young athletes begin specializing in their favorite sport at increasingly younger ages.

Over five million children under the age of 18 are treated for sports injuries each year. The vast majority of these are overuse injuries. The repetitive movements made in many sports cause stress and eventually damage to the bone, muscle, ligaments or tendons.

Because young athletes are still developing the soft tissue throughout their body, it is weaker and more susceptible to injury. This can lead to irritation, inflammation, tendinitis, and tears if preventative steps aren’t taken. Here are five tips for preventing shoulder overuse injuries in young athletes. 

Five tips for Preventing Shoulder Injuries in Young Athletes

  1. Help prevent injuries by scheduling an annual sports physical. This can be built into their well-child examination. Athletes should get their bodies prepared for sports through pre-season training and sport-specific training. Physical therapy is an excellent option for evaluating the entire body and addressing any weaknesses that may present as injuries over time.
  2. Teach athletes to recognize the difference between pain and discomfort. One of the biggest challenges young athletes have is knowing when to push themselves in training and when to rest. Aches and muscle soreness are a normal part of building strength while training. Pain, however, is our body’s indicator that something is wrong. Minor pain can worsen without time to heal. Teach athletes to report any pain and monitor how it changes with continued use. If the pain does not stop with rest, schedule an appointment with their doctor or physical therapist for an evaluation. Rest, ice and heat are helpful when applied at the appropriate time. However, getting help from a physical therapist is often the best path to full rehabilitation.
  3. Overuse injuries are easier to fix in younger athletes. If a weakness or problem presents itself early, don’t ignore it and hope it goes away. The demands of being an athlete today increase with age. Old injuries will often reappear or become chronic. If your athlete has aspirations of continuing with their sport in college, ensure they can by addressing shoulder overuse injuries sooner than later.
  4. Train the entire body. Many sports focus on building strength in the same areas continually. While this builds significant strength in some parts of the body, it leaves other parts weak. Specializing in sports at an early age is a primary culprit for this. Many athletes, however, don’t have a choice due to the demands of their favorite sport. Cross-training by building strength in opposing muscle groups is essential to long-term injury prevention.
  5. Rest is a critical component of healing. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that young athletes rest at least one day per week. They also suggest that athletes take a combined total of three months off annually, divided throughout the year. During this time the athlete should remain physically active enjoying other activities or sports that train different parts of their bodies.

If you are concerned about shoulder overuse injuries in your athlete, schedule an appointment with their doctor or physical therapist for an evaluation. A program of rest, stretching and strengthening is often all that is needed to rehabilitate the shoulder and get them back doing their favorite sport.