Avoiding Burnout–Overuse Injuries in Kids, Part Two
In my last post, I talked about overuse injuries in young athletes. We have been seeing an increasing number of these types of injuries that parallels the increase in the number of children who participate in organized athletic activities. But overuse injuries are only one problem these young athletes are at risk for. Another big problem that we are seeing is overtraining, or “burnout.”
Burnout, also called overtraining syndrome, has been well-described in adult athletes, but little is known about how it affects younger athletes.
Common Signs of Burnout
- Slower performance times than expected
- Lack of motivation for practice or competition
- Chronic fatigue
- Chronic complaints of pain
In addition to representing serious complications of doing ‘too much, for too long’, burnout decreases the chances that the athlete will continue to exercise later in life, and considering the alarming rise in childhood and adult obesity in our county, this is a condition to be avoided.
How to Prevent Burnout
In my previous post, I discussed that physical activities should be limited to 18 – 20 hours / week to help prevent overuse injuries – this strategy will also help prevent over-training. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness recommends that children should limit their sports activities to five days per week, with at least one day off from all organized physical activities to allow for rest and healing.
Athletes who participate in their sport year-round should have two to three months ‘off’ per year. Cross-training during these off times helps the athlete maintain his or her cardiovascular fitness, promotes acquisition of additional athletic skills, and refreshes the mind to prevent mental burnout. Strategies such as introducing a variety of activities into the practice regimen will help prevent overuse injuries, and will also help prevent burnout by keeping the sport fun and interesting.
Athletes who are highly skilled and competitive can be allowed to bend some of the recommendations regarding the amount of time they spend in their sport. However, in these situations, I recommend that the athlete be closely monitored by a physician and by qualified and experienced coaches for any signs that he or she is doing too much. Both the parent and the athlete should be aware of some of the warning signs to watch out for.
Priorities of a Young Athlete
As sports become more and more competitive, and the rewards for top athletes more lucrative, there certainly can be pressure on young athletes to excel in their sport. However, one goal of sports should be a life-long interest in physical activity and a healthy lifestyle. By using sports as a platform for wellness, athletes can learn to be in tune with their bodies, and so recognize some of the signs and symptoms of both overuse injuries and overtraining.
Fortunately, most injuries of young athletes are not severe, and do not limit sports activities in the long run, but some injuries do have the potential to do that. Talk with your pediatrician if you have any concerns about your young star, and seek consultation early if there are any concerns.
See: Overuse Injuries in Kids Part 1