As reported by Ivanhoe Broadcast News, Inc., March 11, 2010.

Pediatric Sports Injuries: A Silent Epidemic

Year-round sports and increased exposure are leading to a dramatic rise in adolescent sport-related injuries. Awareness, education, warning signs and early treatment can make a significant difference and help keep young athletes in the game.

According to Thomas M. DeBerardino, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and Associate Professor of Orthopedics at the University of Connecticut Health Center, adolescent sport-related injuries are on the rise, so much so that they have become a "silent epidemic."

"More adolescents are participating in year-round sports without seasonal breaks, or they are playing on multiple teams simultaneously," Dr. DeBerardino was quoted as saying. "This increased exposure means there will continue to be growing numbers of significant musculoskeletal injuries, both traumatic and chronic overuse."

Awareness and prevention can help, and Dr. DeBerardino says it is important to recognize that adolescents are just as susceptible to overuse and traumatic joint and extremity injuries as adults. At the same time, teens are not "miniature adults" and because their bodies are still growing, orthopedic injuries are of special concern.

For example, if metal hardware needs to be surgically implanted in an area that is still growing, it can stunt a child's growth. If an adolescent has shoulder surgery, but the tension on the repair is too tight, it can lead to a lifetime of chronic pain.

"Everyone wants to get to the top," said Dr. DeBerardino. "But we have to look at this and say, are we pushing kids too hard? Even athletes at the college and pro levels have mandated downtimes. We cannot wait for kids to reach the college level to modify their training, because by that time it could be too late."

In a separate study, Dr. Theodore J. Ganley, M.D., Director of Sports Medicine, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, noted that more and more young gymnasts, who often train year-round and perform repetitive weight-bearing maneuvers, are sustaining osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) injuries, a softening of the bone underneath the cartilage that can lead to cartilage breaks and pain.

Excellent outcomes for OCD injuries are possible with arthroscopic treatment, but early detection is key.

"While patients requiring surgery for OCD injuries can benefit from arthroscopic surgery, understanding the warning signs can help prevent athletes from presenting with more extensive lesions, Dr. Ganley was quoted as saying.

Early warning signs include persistent pain during activity; painful swelling of the elbow; locking or 'catching' of the elbow joint; or loss of motion.

"Early detection can allow for the option of non-operative treatments, such as activity modification followed by physical therapy," said Dr. Ganley. "This can promote complete healing and rehabilitation allowing the young gymnast to fully return to his or her sport."

SOURCE: Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), March 10, 2010