In today's world, playing sports is not what it used to be.
Kids start playing sports younger and play harder than ever before. Sport medicine specialists say this trend has led to debilitating overuse injuries in kids as young as 9.
Doctors say they try to convince the young athletes they see to slow down but it's not so easy, with the competitive pressure in today's sports world.
Sixteen-year-old Nicolette Amato plays softball and field hockey for Easton High School.
She began playing sports at four-years-old. This past July, while playing in a summer softball tournament, Nicolette took a hard swing of the bat and something awful happened.
"I just felt my back. I couldn't bend over. I couldn't do anything.”
Doctors at OAA in Allentown diagnosed a so-called overuse injury. Nicolette’s L4 vertebra in her spine had fractured.
But Nicolette had felt pain in her back for about two years before this happened.
It was a slow, progressive injury that took a long time to heal. Her parents couldn’t believe it.
"I think I'm guilty of not really understanding what it involved in the beginning, just not knowing. And then when we understood it we were taken aback,” says Jerry Amato, Nicolette’ dad.
Doctors say overuse injuries can involve bones, tendons, joints and muscles.
They say there are a few reasons for the increase in these types of injuries.
"Number one we're seeing so much specialization now where students are picking one sport early on,” says Dr. Jill Crosson, sports medicine specialist at OAA.
She explains that the playing time and intensity of that one sport has increased too.
Sports medicine expert, Dr. Laura Dunne, also treats athletes at OAA.
She says coaches need to take a look at training procedures. “When you start training pre-adolescents as if they're adolescents or young adults, their bodies are breaking down faster so it's not so much that we're seeing different injuries as we're seeing these injuries in younger and younger kids."
The doctors say kids need to strike a balance between rest and training.
"You need to do one sport per season rather than more than one. You need to have one training day off a week and you need to have at least two months off your sport every year,” says Dr. Dunne.
It's tough advice for kids like Nicolette, who don't want to stop playing but doctors say the consequences are just as difficult.
Nicolette says, "I love sports and I love everything I've played, yeah. this was a bump in the road but it's not going to stop me from playing what I love."
Doctors also say it's best for kids to play more than one sport, like Nicolette does, with softball and field hockey, so they strengthen other parts of their bodies.
Here are a few tips for young athletes on prevention:
*Learn to listen to your body.
Remember that "no pain, no gain" does not apply here. The 10 percent rule is very helpful in determining how to take things to the "next level."
In general, you should not increase your training program or activity more than 10 percent per week. This allows your body adequate time for recovery and response. This rule also applies to increasing pace or mileage for walkers and runners, as well as to the amount of weight added in strength training programs.
*Always remember to warm up and cool down properly before and after activity. Incorporating strength training, increasing flexibility, and improving core stability will also help minimize overuse injuries.
*Seek the advice of a sports medicine specialist or athletic trainer when beginning an exercise program or sport to prevent chronic or recurrent problems. Your program can also be modified to maintain overall fitness levels in a safe manner while you recover from your injury.
*You should return to play only when clearance is granted by a health care professional.