The epidemic that’s ruining youth sports

During a soccer game early last year, Tiffany Lin began experiencing a sharp pain in her right knee.

Then a freshman at Manhattan’s Beacon School, Lin tried to play through the pain but sought out a doctor when it wouldn’t subside.

The diagnosis? She had Osgood-Schlatter disease, which is the inflammation of the area just below the knee. It mostly occurs during growth spurts and is exacerbated by continuous pounding of the knees that happens during sports such as soccer and running.

It wasn’t difficult to figure out the culprit. Lin, a fullback, played on three soccer teams: her varsity high school squad, club ball in lower Manhattan and a recreation team. At times, she was playing the sport seven days a week.

“My doctor said it wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t overusing my body so much,” says the 16-year-old, who was sidelined for a few weeks. “I’m getting better. I’m learning how to ice, stretch and rest.”

But for every teen athlete who takes a break, there are hundreds who don’t heed doctors’ warnings and continue to overburden their growing bodies. Eventually, many will contribute to the epidemic of overuse injuries — which are on the rise, according to several studies and orthopedic doctors — now sullying youth sports.

“I’m seeing these overuse injuries in younger and younger people,” says Michael A. Kelly, MD, chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center.

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