Adolescent athletes at risk for overuse injuries

For teens a vast majority of upper extremity injuries are in the shoulder from sports such as swimming, tennis, baseball and softball. CONTRIBUTED

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For teens a vast majority of upper extremity injuries are in the shoulder from sports such as swimming, tennis, baseball and softball. CONTRIBUTED

Adolescent athletes are at an ever-increasing risk of developing overuse injuries when the main goal to training is winning a college scholarship or reaching elite club status.

“The desire in this country to be performance-driven is driving over-training demands on young athletes,” said Jon Sulentic, DO, a sports medicine physician with Premier Orthopedics. “And what we are seeing is that if you’re going to place a college level training volume on a 15-year-old kid, they’re going to fail.”

Doctors like Dr. Sulentic have begun to see a significant rise in overuse injuries in children, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). Sports offer great benefits to an adolescent’s health and emotional well-being, but if training is not properly taught injuries can quickly overcome the positive reasons for doing it in the first place.

Dr. Sulentic said the most common overuse injuries seen in adolescents today can be divided into two categories — those in the upper and lower extremities. A vast majority of upper extremity injuries are in the shoulder from sports such as swimming, tennis, baseball and softball.

“Those are a result of one simple fact: Our body was not designed to do these movements repetitively,” said Dr. Sulentic, who practices with Premier Physician Network. “That’s why we see problems with the rotator cuff, for instance.”

Lower extremity injuries in younger athletes — such as Iliotibial Band Syndrome in runners, stress fractures and shin splints — revolve around the growth or development of their bone anatomy. Overuse injuries affect muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones and growth plates. These structures are still growing in adolescents and, at times, that growth is uneven. Bones grow first — pulling at tight muscles and tendons. It’s this uneven growth that places young athletes at a higher risk for muscle, tendon and growth plate injuries, the AAOS said.

Dr. Sulentic said accelerated training programs are very common today, especially in club sports where an adolescent is encouraged to focus on one area in order to reach elite status or be considered for a college scholarship. The problem is that such a focus goes against what young athlete’s bodies really need in order to stay healthy and injury-free.

“Kids need rest, and they need to be involved in multiple sports,” he said. “They need cross training — to use an older term — and our modern sports are not set up for that.”

Overuse injuries in adolescents have multiple contributing factors, but the primary ones are related to typical training errors. A training plan’s volume, intensity and inadequate time allotted for recovery are at the core. Dr. Sulentic encourages coaches and parents to be in tune with an adolescent’s body and to not ignore signs that an overuse injury is developing. Don’t let long-term goals drive decisions today on the best way to treat an athlete.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to make an athlete slow down and even stop for a period of time. Recovery takes time and patience. Pain is the body’s way of saying it’s time to rest. Adolescents who take a break will often times be able to get back into their game without any problems.

“Creating a desire in these kids to train is easy: They’re motivated,” Dr. Sulentic said. “You tell them to do more and they want to do more. They love their sport, but what we really need to do is offer the right guidance to say, ‘Sometimes less is better.’ ”

About Premier Orthopedics

Premier Orthopedics, a part of Premier Physician Network, includes a diverse group of specialties in one practice, which serves a variety of communities through its multiple locations. The practice sees patients in Beavercreek, Centerville, Dayton, Englewood, Huber Heights, Middletown, Springboro, Tipp City, and Troy. Premier Orthopedics specialists offer diagnosis, treatment and care for elbow, foot, hand, hip, knee, shoulder and athletic injuries. Patients benefit from a collaborative approach, advanced technology and ease of referrals. As official team physicians, Premier Orthopedics doctors are entrusted with the care of student athletes from more than 30 area high schools and three local universities, including the University of Dayton and Wright State University. They can often be found on the sidelines and in training rooms across Southwest Ohio managing the care of athletes in individual and team sporting events. For more information, go online to

Premier Physician Network is one of the largest groups of pediatrics, family medicine, internal medicine, and urgent care practices in southwest Ohio. For more information, go online to

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