By Frank Alberta

Youth Sports and Osteoarthritis

We can all agree that exercise is good for kids. More than 30 million kids participating in organized sports in the United States and countless more engaging in other recreational activities.

But it’s also true that today’s youth athlete could become tomorrow’s osteoarthritis patients. The trauma associated with some youth sports can dramatically increase the risk that those kids will develop knee, shoulder or ankle osteoarthritis (OA) by the time they reach adulthood.

Childhood injuries of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), meniscus or articular cartilage are closely linked to knee osteoarthritis later in life.

According to one Arthritis Foundation study, a single knee injury early in life can put a person at five times the risk for osteoarthritis in adulthood.

Another such study found that of female patients who had suffered an ACL injury by age 19, 50 percent had radiographic knee OA by age 31. For men, the average age for an ACL injury is 24. By age 38, 40 percent of men who have had an ACL injury have knee OA.

So what can we do about it?

It’s a good idea for youngsters to have a screening and evaluation before they participate in high-impact sports.A visit to the doctor can help identify children and adolescents at high risk for injury or joint problems.

Some athletes may benefit from neuromuscular training programs that work on balance, proprioception, and agility that promote optimal biomechanics, and stability. Multiple studies have shown a clear benefit from pre-season ACL prevention programs in young women. We can help you find the program that is best for you and your sport.

If you suffer an injury, don’t return to acompetition until you have been cleared by a qualified trainer or physician. Schedule an appointment if your young athlete has pain and discomfort that doesn’t go away with rest alone.

Our goal is always to promote and protect safe participation in the sports you love. It is most important to balance this with the long term health of your joints though.

Play safe!

Dr. Alberta

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