Orthopaedic Surgeons Must Educate Communities About Youth Sports Injuries

girl basketball player2OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Carl Nunziato, MD and Anthony Johnson, MD in response to a TV news segment on WLWT in Cincinnati.

While viewing the WLWT segment on youth sports injury, we were encouraged that the reporter sought out a local orthopedic surgeon to comment on the risks associated with single-sport specialization. As orthopaedic surgeons, our opinions are a trusted voice in our communities, and we need to educate athletes, coaches, and parents alike of the dangers of such specialization. We commend Dr. Timothy Kremchek for his involvement in his local community and have felt the frustration he expressed regarding the rising sport-injury rates among adolescents.

However, we caution providers against characterizing single-sport specialization as “child abuse,” as Dr. Kremchek did in this segment. This extreme language, even if used to emphasize the potentially serious nature of some sport injuries, is counterproductive. Instead, we encourage all musculoskeletal clinicians to focus on educating the public on how to reduce risk in adolescent athletes, rather than shaming or blaming.

We’ve helped many patients—both minors and adults—as they struggled to rehab from injuries, only to realize that returning to the same level of competition may not be possible. In such cases, many patients and/or their parents ask the same guilt-ridden questions as the mother of the young basketball player in the news segment: “Did I make a mistake? Did I push too hard?”

It is true that youthful participation in a single sport year-round has been shown to result in increased injury rates, burnout, and possibly even limitations in peak performance in the chosen sport due to delayed development of other muscle groups and fine motor skills. We also cannot deny the risks and costs associated with the increase in operations on young athletes. It’s key to remember, however, the principal concept of patient autonomy. As the young patient in the story reminds us, these kids often truly love their sport – and many would choose to continue participating even if they knew the risk and seriousness of eventual injury.

Instead of using sensational phrases like “child abuse,” which may frighten  families or stir up feelings of guilt, we should provide resources for coaches, parents, physicians, and athletes aimed at encouraging healthy participation and minimization of one-sport injuries. One example is the AAOS/AOSSM OneSport initiative. Educating patients and their families requires significant time and effort on the part of the orthopaedic surgeon, but it is likely to result in a more positive interaction with the patient and parents. And these interactions may help emphasize the long-term lifestyle behaviors that we are hoping to cultivate among these vulnerable populations.

Carl A. Nunziato, MD is a resident in orthopaedic surgery at Dell Medical School in Austin, Texas. Anthony Johnson, MD is the orthopaedic surgery residency program director in the Department of Surgery and Perioperative Care at Dell Medical School.

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