Study: Young Athletes Especially Susceptible to Hand and Arm Injuries During Sports

Hospital for Special Surgery offers nine ways parents can help their children train and compete safely

NEW YORK—September 22, 2009 

One cannot underestimate the importance of exercise for young people to maintain physical fitness and develop healthy bones. And while participating in athletic activities is essential for good health, it’s important that children and teenagers play it safe to avoid injury, according to Michelle Carlson, M.D., director of the Children and Adolescent Hand and Arm (CHArm) Center at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and a Long Island resident.

A study at the CHArm Center found that young people are especially prone to hand and arm injuries while participating in youth sports. “The combination of youthful activity and still-growing bones makes children and adolescents susceptible to this type of injury, especially if they’re involved in youth sports such as basketball, soccer or baseball,” Dr. Carlson notes.

“Of the 394 patients seen at the CHArm Center since it opened in October 2005, 47 percent came in for injuries they sustained while playing a sport, either organized or recreationally with friends,” said Dr. Carlson. According to CHArm Center data, they most frequently participated in basketball, soccer or baseball.

The good news is that young people can stay active and avoid injury through prevention techniques and mindful parental supervision, according to Dr. Carlson. To prevent accidents and injuries in organized sports, Dr. Carlson, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends the following guidelines for parents:

  • Limit each sporting activity to five days a week, including competitive play, training and practice, and be sure to reserve one day per week of rest from all organized physical activity.
  • Have children take a break, about two to three months, from each sport per year. Year-round play can contribute to overuse injuries.
  • Limit weekly training time, number of repetitions and total distance to no more than a 10 percent increase each week.
  • Make sure young athletes warm up properly to slowly increase the heart and breathing rate by doing low-intensity versions of the activity and stretching.
  • Ensure the use of proper equipment for each sport: protective equipment should be the correct size, fit well and protect from top to bottom.
    • Children should use helmet, eye protection, mouth guards, pads, protective cup or cleats, depending on the activity.
  • Educate players on the rules of the game: make sure they understand their role and position, as well as where to be to avoid being in harm’s way.
  • Be vigilant to signs of burnout such as athlete’s fatigue, poor academic performance and complaints of nonspecific muscle or joint problems.
  • Stop children from playing while injured: if a parent spots a problem, allowing further activity could lead to a more severe and painful injury. All injuries need time to heal.
  • Keep it positive: emphasize that the focus of sports participation should be on fun, skill acquisition, sportsmanship and, above all else, safety.

Dr. Carlson says specific questions or plans for a young athlete’s training should be directed to the child’s pediatrician. Read more about the CHArm Center and its services, or call 1.888.CHArm40 (1.888.242.7640).

The Children and Adolescent Hand and Arm (CHArm) Center at Hospital for Special Surgery is a comprehensive resource dedicated to the treatment, research and education of all children and adolescents. The CHArm Center’s multidisciplinary team of specialists provides care for children and adolescents with a variety of hand and arm conditions including orthopedic trauma and sports injuries, rheumatologic conditions, neurological disorders, congenital defects and tumors.

The CHArm Center staff provides educational outreach programs to area schools, parents, athletic coaches and health-care workers. By providing information about hand and arm safety and ways to avoid common upper extremity injuries, doctors at the CHArm Center hope to decrease the number of accidental hand injuries in the pediatric and adolescent population.

About Hospital for Special Surgery
Founded in 1863, Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) is a world leader in orthopedics, rheumatology and rehabilitation. HSS is nationally ranked No. 2 in orthopedics, No. 3 in rheumatology and No. 24 in neurology by U.S.News & World Report (2009), and has received Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, and has one of the lowest infection rates in the country. In 2008 and 2007, HSS was a recipient of the HealthGrades Joint Replacement Excellence Award. A member of the NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System and an affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College, HSS provides orthopedic and rheumatologic patient care at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center. All Hospital for Special Surgery medical staff are on the faculty of Weill Cornell Medical College. The hospital's research division is internationally recognized as a leader in the investigation of musculoskeletal and autoimmune diseases. Hospital for Special Surgery is located in New York City and online at www.hss.edu.

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