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AAP Calls Out Causes of Overuse Injuries & Burnout in Youth Sports

Children and teens score many physical and mental health benefits from participating in sports. But research shows about 70 % of them drop out of these organized activities by age 13.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) calls attention to the potential underlying causes behind sport drop-out rates and describes how pediatricians can encourage healthy athletic participation within a clinical report, "Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Young Athletes."

The report, published in the February 2023 Pediatrics, updates a prior report from 2007. It highlights the latest evidence on how excessive training can lead to overuse injury, overtraining, impaired well-being and decreased quality of life.

Encouraging physical activity as a lifelong pursuit

"Sports are such a powerful and fun motivator to keep youth physically and mentally active. But some youth may feel pressure from parents, coaches and others to measure success only by performance," said Joel S. Brenner, MD, MPH, FAAP, an author of the report, co-authored by the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.

"Pediatricians can help families determine what sport participation practices will benefit children most and help encourage physical activity as a lifelong pursuit."

The report outlines common sports-related injuries, such as those caused by repetitive stress. It states that children and adolescents may be at an increased risk for overuse injuries compared with adults. Growing bones in children are less tolerant of stress than those of adults and may be more susceptible to the development of stress injuries.

What is overtraining and how can it lead to burnout?

The AAP defines overtraining as a decrease in performance due to an imbalance of training and recovery that is often accompanied by persistent fatigue, impaired sleep and alterations in mood. Excessive training volume and overscheduling are also suggested as two potential risk factors for burnout. Research finds that it has become more common to see young athletes participate on multiple teams at the same time and training year-round.

"Whether training is specialized or multisport, it becomes a problem when an athlete no longer has any free play time or opportunity to engage in other non-sport-related activities," said Andrew Watson, MD, MS, FAAP, co-author of the report.

"Athletic competition and training will always prompt some stress that, when delivered in an appropriate way, leads to adaptation, success and enjoyment," Dr. Watson said. "When that stress becomes excessive, it can lead to burnout."

The AAP recommends:

  • Athletes undergo a preparticipation exam within their medical home, so their pediatrician can provide a comprehensive approach toward sports involvement.

  • Measuring success on participation and effort, and foster positive experiences with parents, coaches, and peers.

  • Promote skill development and being well-rounded in physical activities while avoiding overtraining and overscheduling.

  • When there are signs of overtraining or burnout, modify the causative factors and involve a mental health professional, if needed.

  • Keep workouts interesting and fun by incorporating age-appropriate games and training.

Mindfulness & taking breaks

"It's important to teach our athletes to focus on wellness and to listen to their bodies," Dr. Brenner said. "We can encourage mindfulness, time away from sports and other ways to prevent injury or burnout. If you have questions, always talk with your pediatrician."

Clinical reports created by AAP are written by medical experts, reflect the latest evidence in the field, and go through several rounds of peer review before being approved by the AAP Board of Directors and published in Pediatrics.

More information

1/22/2024 12:00 AM
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright @ 2024)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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