Participation in sports activities can be wonderful for a child’s physical and emotional health. But where’s the line on your child’s exercise routine, and how much is too much?
The answer lies in each individual child. What might be too much for one child may be completely healthy for another. It’s important to know what your child can handle, and also to take steps to prevent exhaustion, injuries, mental “burn out,” and eating disorders.
While the risk of injury varies from sport to sport, the most common cause of injury, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is overuse:
Most injuries occur to ligaments (connect bones together), tendons (connect muscles to bones) and muscles. Stress fractures can also occur from overuse. However, the areas where bones grow in children are at more risk of injury during the rapid phases of growth. In a growing child, point tenderness over a bone should be evaluated further by a medical provider even if there is minimal swelling or limitation in motion.
Most frequent sports injuries are sprains (injuries to ligaments) strains (injuries to muscles), and stress fractures (injury to bone) caused when an abnormal stress is placed on tendons, joints, bones and muscle.
To reduce the risk of injury, the AAP recommends:
» Time off. Plan to have at least 1 day off per week from a particular sport to allow the body to recover.
» Wear the right gear. Players should wear appropriate and properly fit protective equipment such as pads (neck, shoulder, elbow, chest, knee, shin), helmets, mouthpieces, face guards, protective cups, and/or eyewear. Young athletes should not assume that protective gear will protect them from performing more dangerous or risky activities.
» Strengthen muscles. Conditioning exercises during practice strengthens muscles used in play.
» Increase flexibility. Stretching exercises before and after games or practice can increase flexibility. Stretching should also be incorporated into a daily fitness plan.» Use the proper technique. This should be reinforced during the playing season.
» Take breaks. Rest periods during practice and games can reduce injuries and prevent heat illness.
» Play safe. Strict rules against headfirst sliding (baseball and softball), spearing (football), and body checking (ice hockey) should be enforced.
» Stop the activity if there is pain.
» Avoid heat injury by drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise or play; decrease or stop practices or competitions during high heat/humidity periods; wear light clothing.
Mental “burn out” can happen when a child is pushed too hard and the sport becomes work and not fun. While there is an aspect of hard work in all sports, a child who is not having fun while participating is not receiving the full benefits the sport has to offer. If your child is showing signs of anger, loss of interest in the sport or being too hard on himself (or herself) it may be time to discuss his or her taking a break or pursuing a new activity entirely.
Health problems may also occur if your child is not eating enough nutritious food to sustain his or her level of physical activity. Whether inappropriate weight loss due to an imbalance between healthy food intake and physical activity is intentional or not, serious health problems can result from it. While both boys and girls may be susceptible to this, girls in particular may also miss periods and suffer from osteoporosis. See your child’s physician right away if you suspect an eating disorder, or are just concerned that your child’s nutritional needs are not being met.
As a good guideline on how much exercise the average child should have, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that children and adolescents six years of age and older need 60 minutes a day of physical activity. Most of those 60 minutes should include either moderate or vigorous aerobic activity. In addition, children should participate in muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities at least three days per week.
Guidelines aside, the best way to determine what’s appropriate for your child is to consult his or her physician and request an individual assessment. Contact Shasta Orthopaedics to make an appointment for an evaluation.