Teen Athletes Need
Special Attention, Says Surgeon
By Maureen McGuire
Inspired by Olympic gold medallists like Sarah Hughes and Jim Shea, many teens may be training extra hard in gyms and ice rinks these days. But for young athletes, orthopedic surgeon Carl Nissen has a word of caution.
"The old saying, 'no pain, no gain,' just isn't true," says Dr. Nissen, a Health Center surgeon with expertise in treating teens with sports injuries. "Playing sports should not be painful. And when it is, that's the body's way of saying something needs to be changed."
An estimated $800,000 is spent on children's sports injuries every year, Nissen said, and the severity of these injuries increases as athletes enter their teen years. Children and teens are particularly vulnerable to injuries because they are still growing, he explains. "Over-training can damage the growth plates, which are the relatively soft areas of development where bone growth occurs on children. Growth plates are susceptible to injury because they can be weaker than the nearby ligaments and tendons," he says.
To help prevent injuries in teens and children, Nissen recommends:
He says teen athletes are more likely to sustain injuries to knees and ankles. One of the most common problems, patellofemoral malalignment, is marked by sharp pain in the joint between the knee-cap and the thigh bone. It is usually resolved with conservative therapy, such as rest and the use of anti-inflammatory medicines.
Younger athletes and baseball players are more prone to elbow and shoulder injuries. Damage is caused to muscles and tendons around the shoulder by repetitive over-arm motions, such as swimming or throwing.
Osteochondritis dissecans, also known as Little League Elbow, is a complication caused by repetitive stress to the skeletally immature elbow. Treatment often includes rest and anti-inflammatory medicines. Surgery is only considered when other measures fail to bring relief.
"Although it's not always a popular choice for teens or their coaches," says Nissen, "the key to recovery for many of the overuse injuries is adequate rest."