The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Kids Suffer Adult Sports Injuries Due to Overtraining and Lack of Free Play

Posted by on Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014


Who could fault Tyler Dee’s parents for putting him through basketball camps and clinics? He picked up his first basketball at age three, and the rest was history. He seemed to have a natural aptitude for the sport. Unfortunately, skill cannot protect young people from suffering injuries — sometimes quite serious ones. The San Jose Mercury News tells the story of this brave 8-year-old who suffered a ruptured ACL — which sports medicine professionals consider to be a very “adult” type of overuse injury. The young boy’s x-ray showed that his ACL was all but shredded, which required ACL surgery and over nine months of physical therapy to repair.


youth sports injuries
Unstructured “free play” is an essential part of a child’s physical, emotional, and mental development. Competitive team sports can sometimes get in the way — and cause serious “adult” style overuse injuries. Image Source:


Is your child over-training?

What was once almost unheard of in young people is starting to be seen by pediatricians and sports medicine doctors from San Jose to New York City, as more and more kids take part in organized sports starting at younger ages. By one estimate (at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia), youth ACL injuries have increased by 400 percent over the past 12 years. ACL tears used to be seen primarily in older adults and sixteen or seventeen-year-olds, but now we are seeing them in kids as young as seven, said Oakland pediatric surgeon Nirav Pandya. Kids under 11 who play year-round sports are at greatest risk for suffering “adult-type” overuse injuries, he adds. Overall, ACL tears affect about 4 percent of young athletes. Other common over-training injuries include:

– Torn ulnar collateral ligaments in the elbow (“pitcher’s elbow”)

– Growth plate injuries

– Hip displacements

– Torn knee cartilage

– Shoulder injuries

Children involved in organized sports for 20 to 30 hours a week are overdoing it, experts say. A good rule of thumb is to have your kid playing organized sports one hour per year of age each week. So, for instance, a five-year-old would be spending maybe five hours a week in organized sports — and ample time with active “free play.”


Why should you encourage your child to enjoy more free play?

According to Kenneth Ginsberga pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, free play fosters the following:

– Competence: the recognition when they are doing something right

– Confidence: completing tasks with achievable goals

– Connection: being part of a community

– Character: understanding what is right and wrong

– Contribution: offering service to help others

– Coping: stress management through enjoyable, low-stress physical activity

– Control: the belief that one has control over his or her own world

Furthermore, researchers have found that children who engage in more free play exhibit more development in self-directed executive functions like making decisions, solving problems, abiding by rules, and getting along with others as equals. Children who spent the most time in structured activities had the worst sense of self-directed control.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids get 60 minutes of moderate and vigorous physical activity a day through “informal physical activity in home or neighborhood settings.” Examples of free play may include a backyard soccer game or baseball with friends at the park. It could mean building a fort, playing with blocks, throwing a frisbee, dancing, bike riding, making music, or running through a homemade obstacle course.


 Our NYC sports medicine doctors treat traumatic youth sports injuries…

Traumatic injuries early on can nix a child’s sports career ambitions and hinder an active lifestyle. Worse yet, injuries to the growth plates can prevent bones from reaching full size or cause deformity. Our board-certified surgeons have extensive training in a vast number of techniques that benefit the growth and development of young people. We have a dedicated physical therapy team that works closely with your child to foster an active recovery plan that protects injured bones and soft tissues. Most importantly, we try to make the process fun for your child and take away much of the anxiety that comes along with a “trip to the doctor’s.” Book an appointment at our Manhattan or Westchester office online.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.