Sports can be beneficial in a number of ways. But there is growing concern among doctors over the toll sports can take on developing bodies.
The National Youth Sports Safety Foundation estimates that more than 3 million kids suffer from sports-related injuries each year. Some of those injuries are acute, such as sprains, strains, broken bones, or concussions. But others are termed "overuse" injuries. These include joint problems like runner's knee, where the kneecap slides improperly along its track, or little league elbow?an injury to the cartilage on the inner side of the elbow.
What's so startling about these injuries is not that they happen, but that they are happening in children. Overuse injuries are typically seen in professional athletes or adults who exercise intensely. In a recent article in USA Today, orthopedic surgeon Lyle Micheli notes, "Until recently, runner's knee was unheard of in kids. Now it's the number one diagnosis in my practice."
Children are actually more vulnerable to overuse injuries than adults because their bones and joints are still developing. While most of these injuries will heal with rest and physical therapy, Micheli says they can sometimes result in permanent bone damage that will require surgery to prevent further damage.
Experts point to the increase in kids' year-round involvement in sports as part of the problem. A child playing soccer used to play for the season, then move on to something else or simply rest in the off-season. Now it's possible for a child to participate in the same or similar sport all year, giving the body little opportunity to recover.
In USA Today, Dr. Micheli suggests parents take the following precautions to protect their children from overuse injuries:
? Make sure equipment, particularly footwear, fits properly. If your child runs often, replace her shoes when they start to show signs of wear.
? Be aware of any physical abnormalities in your child, such as bowlegs, flat feet, or legs that are two different lengths. These conditions can make some activities more painful for your child.
? Don't let your child do too much too soon. If your child is used to jogging for three miles, four times a week, then jumps to ten miles, six days a week when the season starts, she's likely to feel it. Never increase the intensity, duration, frequency, or distance by more than 10 percent a week.
? Make sure your child's coaches are well-trained and know when to let players rest.For more information on childhood sports injuries, go to the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation web site at www.nyssf.org.
Sick of Sugar?
Did you know that eating or drinking eight tablespoons of sugar, about what you'd get in two-and-a-half cans of soda, can reduce the white blood cells' ability to kill germs by 40 percent? This immune-suppressing effect of sugar can start in less than 30 minutes after ingestion and may last up to five hours. If your kids are showing signs of illness or are already sick, avoid sugar-filled food and drinks.
?Carrie Myers Smith health specialist, mother of four
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