Keeping Your Young Athlete Healthy
“There’s a lot of education to do at the grass roots level, which is what you’re trying to do,” said Dr. James Andrews, world-renowned orthopedic surgeon, as we began our phone interview. The day of our interview was a busy one for the highly sought after surgeon, as he was called upon to conduct surgery on an NFL player who had sustained an injury the day before. When I was notified that our interview time slot needed to be pushed back due to the surgery, I honestly thought that my opportunity to interview Dr. Andrews may have passed me by, as he had more high profile people in the world of sports vying for his time and guidance than the editor of a youth sports magazine. To my surprise, I received a call from Dr. Andrews, close to our originally scheduled time. He was in between surgeries, and wanted to be sure to connect with me to discuss a topic of great importance to him…keeping youth athletes healthy. I quickly realized that he too was passionate about educating parents and coaches at a grass roots level, in the hopes to keep young athletes out of the surgery room. Here’s a surgeon, well known for the career saving surgeries he has conducted on professional athletes such as Troy Aikman, Bo Jackson, Peyton Mannning, and Drew Brees, just to name a few. A surgeon who could walk away from the world of sports at this moment and be considered as one of the most influential people in its history, yet he chooses to be a part of grass roots efforts. Why is this? Dr. Andrews is aware of the increase in young athletes being treated by surgeons for conditions that were once rare in the youth population, and it’s of great concern to him.
“The big problem is that we’ve had a seven-to-ten-fold increase in youth sports injuries since (the) year 2,000. That means we’re almost reaching epidemic proportions with some twenty-nine different youth sports that kids are participating in and being injured,” he shared with me as we discussed this growing problem.
While this statement is daunting, it doesn’t have to remain the case. It shouldn’t remain the case. Many sports injuries can be prevented when parents and coaches are aware of the most common risk factors. According to Dr. Andrews, there are two main risk factors leading to injuries in youth athletes. The first of which is specialization. Simply put, specialization is playing one sport year-round with no rest. The second is professionalism, which is treating young athletes like they are professional athletes; requiring around the clock training that their young bodies are not capable of handling.
“Pretty much common sense tells you how to prevent these injuries, which are mostly overuse injuries,” said Dr. Andrews. “We recommend that all young athletes have at least two months off each year when they’re not training in a specific sport. The body needs time to rest and to recuperate. And when we say two months, preferably we mean three to four months off to let the body recover.”
Being the parent of three young athletes in the competitive world of North Texas sports, I know the vicious cycle that youth athletes get caught in. Everyone is competing for more playing time. There’s a mindset that taking time off will put your young athlete behind. There’s the fear that while one is resting, another is getting better. The reality is that the injured player gets zero minutes of playing time, and once the injury occurs, we look back and realize that a simple thing such as rest could’ve kept our child healthy, ironically resulting in more playing time. A coach once told me years ago, that rest is severely undervalued. This same statement was proven through research done by the Andrews Research and Education Foundation.
“We studied young kids that had been injured, and we studied the effects of what they were doing, whether they were playing year-round or not,” said Dr. Andrews. “And what we came up with, and it was peer reviewed and published, was that if they were playing, for example, youth baseball or youth soccer with fatigue; meaning playing three games in one day, or playing year-round youth baseball; if they were playing with fatigue factors, there was a thirty-six to one times, that means a 3,600% increase, that they could have an injury.”
He continued to explain that fatigue can be classified into three different categories. When discussing youth baseball, the first category is event fatigue, which means a player is throwing too many pitches in a game with no pitch count. This first category is probably the most monitored of the three; however, where many make a mistake is failing to account for seasonal fatigue and year-round fatigue. Seasonal fatigue is defined by too many innings in a season, while year-round fatigue is playing year-round with no rest.
If we’re honest, fatigue is not an elusive condition that we can’t detect as parents and coaches. It’s often easy to see it setting in. It doesn’t require walking away from a sport to address. It takes education and acting upon that information to continue the sport wisely. The goal is not to discourage young athletes from pursing the sport they love. In fact, it’s quite contrary to that. The goal is to see athletes enjoy years of health and success doing what they love. In the words of Dr. James Andrews, “Our goal here and mission is to keep them on the playing field and out of the operating room.”
The Children’s Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine was developed under the direction of internationally renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews. As the only pediatric-focused orthopedic institute of its kind in the region, the program began seeing patients at the Children’s Health Plano campus in August 2015, offering world-class orthopedic and sports medicine care, as well as pediatric-focused injury prevention, rehabilitation and therapy.
This month (December 2016), Children’s Health is scheduled to top out on a new building on the southwest corner of the Plano campus, Children’s Health Specialty Center II – a four-story, pediatric-focused center that will house the Children’s Health Andrews Institute, as well as an ambulatory surgery center, outpatient imaging and physician clinics. As home to Children’s Health Sports Performance powered by EXOS, the building will also feature a 5,000-square-foot indoor athletic training facility and an expansive outdoor training space, including a half-size football field and running track. The new center is expected to open in late 2017.