Prominent Surgeon Pleads with Parents to give Young Athletes a Break

YH-James-Andrews

I can’t recall a single friend of mine growing up from elementary school through high school who had to have surgery to repair an injury that could be attributed to overuse. Sure, there were some torn ACLs, a few broken bones and some severely sprained ankles — heck, most of my front teeth were knocked out — but nobody was going in for Tommy John surgery to fix a frayed ligament that resulted from throwing a curve ball all summer in elementary school.

My how things have changed.

Nowadays it’s not abnormal at all for a middle-schooler to come in for a surgery to repair a repetitive stress injury, and world-renowned Alabama-based doctor James Andrews — orthopedic surgeon to the stars — has had enough.

“I’m trying to help these kids, given the epidemic of injuries that we’re seeing. That’s sort of my mission: to keep them on the playing field and out of the operating room,” Andrews said. “I hate to see the kids that we used to not see get hurt… Now they’re coming in with adult, mature-type sports injuries. It’s a real mess. Maybe this book will help make a dent.”

Here are some other interesting nuggets from Andrews’ interview with the Plain Dealer:

“Specialization and “professionalism” are leading to a spike in youth injuries

Specialization leads to playing the sport year-round. That means not only an increase in risk factors for traumatic injuries but a sky-high increase in overuse injuries. Almost half of sports injuries in adolescents stem from overuse.

Professionalism is taking these kids at a young age and trying to work them as if they are pro athletes, in terms of training and year-round activity. Some can do it, like Tiger Woods. He was treated like a professional golfer when he was 4, 5, 6 years old. But you’ve got to realize that Tiger Woods is a special case. A lot of these kids don’t have the ability to withstand that type of training and that type of parental/coach pressure.

The whole youth sports system has gotten out of control

The systems out there in youth sports, particularly travel ball, have been important financial resources for the people who run them. Parents spend a fortune keeping their kids in a year-round sport, with travel and everything else. What’s happening is, the tail is wagging the dog. The systems are calling the shots: If your son or daughter doesn’t play my sport year-round, he or she can’t play for me. Never mind that your kid is 12 — I need year-round dedication.

Simply giving kids a little bit of a break could prevent most of these injuries

Kids need at least two months off each year to recover from a specific sport. Preferably, three to four months. Example: youth baseball. For at least two months, preferably three to four months, they don’t need to do any kind of overhead throwing, any kind of overhead sport, and let the body recover in order to avoid overuse situations. That’s why we’re seeing so many Tommy John procedures, which is an adult operation designed for professionals. In my practice now, 30 to 40 percent of the ones I’m doing are on high-schoolers, even down to ages 12 or 13. They’re already coming in with torn ligaments.

Give them time off to recover. Please. Give them time to recover.

There’s a lot more that can be gleaned from Andrews’ interview, and the full post at The Plain Dealer is worth a read.

But the bottom line is, as the summer wraps up and the school year begins, this might be a good time to give the superstars of tomorrow a break, and let them just be the kids of today.