Playing through pain is viewed as a badge of honor. While playing through pain may be a necessity for professionals getting compensated, amateurs and especially young athletes have no reason to put their future health at risk. With the increase in popularity of club/travel teams in various sports, young athletes are playing sports year round which is leading to an increase in overuse injuries to their developing foot and ankle.
Overuse injuries of the foot and ankle can include growth plate injuries, tendonitis, stress fractures, as well as knee, hip, and back pain that is referred from the foot or ankle. Causes can be broken down into four main components: physical characteristics, proper training, nutrition, and behavioral factors.
- Physical characteristics involve the young athlete’s bone strength and muscle development of their foot. Kid’s feet are constantly developing as they grow, and sports put a lot of extra strain on these fragile bones, joints and soft tissue in the foot and ankle.
- Training can play a pivotal role in overuse injuries when the foot is not properly prepared for various physical activities. Proper stretching and warm-up periods are critical to avoid overuse injuries to the foot and ankle.
- Nutrition often gets overlooked, but young athlete’s bodies are constantly growing. They need the proper nutrients and vitamins to perform at their peak levels. Poor nutritional habits can lead to stress fractures in the foot.
- Lastly, behavioral factors, in a child’s life, can lead to overuse injuries in their foot and ankle. Excessive pressure from parents and coaches can lead to young athletes being pushed harder than they can handle, or the pressure put on them to play through pain can lead to unwarranted injuries to the foot and ankle.
Parents and coaches take for granted that these young athletes’ feet are still developing and can’t handle the strain put on them like an adult. Actions, good or bad, that these young athletes take today, can affect them in the present as well as their long term development. While overuse injuries in the foot and ankle cannot always be prevented, steps can be taken to give young athletes the best chance to succeed. Steps include recognizing the structural development of kid’s feet and not overworking them, proper training of the foot prior to physical activities, proper nutrition, and finally avoiding unwanted pressure put on them by adults, that can lead to overuse injuries in the foot and ankle.