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Help Your Child Stay In The Game By Avoiding Overuse Sports Injuries

Young athletes commonly experience heel and knee pain as their bodies grow. CareMount Medical's Dr. Traci Toll-Griffin explains what parents need to know as fall sports heat up.
Young athletes commonly experience heel and knee pain as their bodies grow. CareMount Medical's Dr. Traci Toll-Griffin explains what parents need to know as fall sports heat up. Photo Credit: CareMount Medical

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- As organized fall sports resume and young athletes once again return to the playing fields, complaints of knee and heel pain can become a common cry amongst growing children.

According to the experts at CareMount Medical, the reasoning for this common pain is largely due to the normal growth process.

"Between the ages of 9 and 14 years old, children go through a major spurt in which the growth of their long bones can create tension where the muscle tendons insert into the bones," said Dr. Traci Toll-Griffin, a pediatrician at CareMount Medical. "This can result in pain, especially when children are very physically active." However, these common overuse injuries don't need to sideline young athletes for long, especially if proper attention is given.

One of the most common discomforts is known as Osgood-Schlatter disease, which results in pain just below the kneecap. Pain often tends to be worse when kneeling, jumping, running, climbing stairs, and in some cases may display as a tangible bump on the tibia, or shinbone. 

Luckily, rest and ice usually reduce the pain associated with Osgood-Schlatter. "I recommend applying ice for 15 minutes, three times a day," said Toll-Griffin. "If the pain persists, you can give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen. It’s also important that your child stretches before and after playing sports." In most cases, children can continue playing their sport, as long pain is limited and improves with rest. However, patients should see their pediatrician if the pain began abruptly, children experience limping or have swelling around the knee itself.

Another common overuse injury in growing athletes is a heel pain known as Sever’s disease. This pain extends from the top of the heel downwards towards the bottom of the foot. Common in runners or sports that involve cleats, Sever's disease can occur intermittently for three to four years.  

As with Osgood-Schlatter, stretching is the best treatment for pain reduction. Performing calf muscles stretches three times per day, especially before and after practice or games, can help minimize painful effects. "If the pain is tolerable, it’s fine to continue playing," said Toll-Griffin. "Using a heel cup or cushion can also reduce this tension." Lastly, opting for supportive shoes with good heel and arch support can make a difference in reducing heel pain. "Though popular, flat-bottom sneakers like Converse or Vans, flat boots such as Uggs, and flip-flops aren’t good choices for footwear," said Toll-Griffin.

As young athletes return to their sports this fall, it's important to balance the benefits and potential risks associated with an active lifestyle. "There is no doubt that both exercise and teamwork are important for your child’s growth and development," said Toll-Griffin." However, too much of a good thing can have unintended effects. By giving your child these tools and ways of listening to their body, you can help them stay as active and pain-free as possible."

For more information on how to keep your child on the field this fall, visit CareMount Medical's website.