May 15, 2007
Knee and Back Problems…For Children?
Katie Graeve played soccer from age 5 and became captain of the women's varsity soccer team at Eagan High School, in St. Paul, Minn., but spent half of her high school soccer career on the sidelines with her leg in a brace. The center midfielder tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee before the beginning of the season in her junior year, and tore the ACL in her left knee two games into her senior season. She has endured two surgeries and eight months of painful physical therapy. "I played basketball back in the day," she told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I wonder if I would have kept another sport, and not played soccer all year-round, if that would have helped."
I ask Caitlin Meyer, who plays varsity basketball for Oakland's Bishop O'Dowd High School and on an Amateur Athletic Union team, if she sees a lot of overuse injuries.
"I know I have shin splits from playing basketball," she says. "We never stop playing. We get a month off twice a year. I have shin splints that will never go away. Every day I'm in pain. When I wake up, when I walk, when I run, I'm always in pain. All summer we're training and conditioning, going to tournaments. Then we have a month off, and in September we start right back up again. We start having practice only two to three times a week, but in November we practice every day and have games on the weekend usually. [Since this interview, Caitlin has quit her AAU team, "because it was too much on my injured legs."
People who don't have a specific injury like my shin splints, their bodies become so tired that they're sick all the time or getting hurt in the same place, like getting knee injuries in their left knee all the time. I know one girl who's always getting back injuries. She'll do something funny and tweak something in her back and have to sit out for a couple of weeks, and she'll go back and play and be fine and then the same back injury will occur.
"There are a lot of overuse injuries. I know I go down to the training room at school to get therapy for my shins, and there are constantly the same kids working on the same things. There are always athletes hurt, always."
"When you look at the physical stress that's being placed on the body, the bottom line is kids are doing too much," assistant athletic director and athletic trainer at Bishop O'Dowd Carlos Arriaga told me. "Kids' bodies are not developing at a faster rate than they were many years ago. There are developmental stages that the kids have to go through. I work with a lot of kids dealing with injuries and also doing strength and conditioning training, and I'll often hear coaches say, 'So-and-so has got to get stronger; they've got to bulk up.' That may be true, but, as I tell the coaches, their bodies are going to develop when they develop, when they mature. And that might not happen until they're 18, 19 or 20. So to think that if you take a kid and have him lift weights every day that all of a sudden he's going to be this bulky, strong individual, that's not reality. Everyone's going to do it at a different level."