What Youth and Adolescent Sports Injuries are Most Common?

By Lee Pace, MD, Connecticut Children's Medical Center

Spring is here, as is the time for more sports injuries…wait a minute…it seems like that time is always upon us these days. As young athletes compete year-round, it seems new injuries are always appearing. While we aim to prevent them, it is still good to know what injuries most commonly affect young athletes. Fortunately, most are minor and have a short recovery time!

Ankle sprains 
This may be the most common injury in all sports. Sometimes referred to as “rolling” or “turning” the ankle, a sprain is defined as a twisting injury that damages some of the supporting ligaments of the ankle. The majority heal very well with a brief period of immobilization, followed by an exercise program and short rest from sports. Younger athletes should be aware of the non-displaced growth plate fracture of the fibula, which can look almost identical to an ankle sprain.  Fortunately, a brief period of immobilization is the treatment for this injury as well. 

Knee pain
Pain in the front of the knee is everywhere in youth sports, especially female sports. This is typically considered an overuse injury and referred to as “patellofemoral syndrome.” Pain in the front of the knee is due to pressure overload on the kneecap or “patella.”  In young athletes, this is often due to different degrees of muscle imbalance and high activity levels. Physical therapy is very successful in treating this condition.

This is a very specific type of knee pain that deserves a separate mention. Osgood-Schlatter disease is a traction injury on a special type of growth plate call an apophysis, which is at the top of the shin bone (tibia). The traction comes from strong and relatively tight muscles (that develop during puberty) and high activity levels. Pain and sometimes swelling can be felt directly over a bump at the bottom of the knee. Treatment includes rest, stretching, ice, NSAIDs, and possibly an over-the-counter knee strap.

Little Leaguer’s Elbow 
This condition, considered the classic overuse injury, has recently been expanded to include any pain about the elbow during excessive throwing. Most athletes recover with rest, stretching and attention to proper throwing form, but some cases may end up requiring surgery, so visiting an orthopaedic physician is recommended. 

ACL tears
Unfortunately, we continue to see this injury far too often in our young athletes. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a stabilizing ligament of the knee that is torn during an uncontrolled twisting motion. It almost always requires surgery in the young and active population, and there is often damage to other structures in the knee, namely the shock-absorbing menisci.  While there is a high rate of return to sports after this injury, it is safest to wait at least 7-9 months before considering a return to play.

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