AVOIDING OVERUSE INJURIES AND BURNOUT: TAKING A BREAK IS A WINNING MOVE FOR YOUNG ATHLETES


Below is a news release on a AAP policy statement appearing in the June issue of Pediatrics, the peer-reviewed, scientific journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). To receive the full text of these articles, contact the AAP Department of Communications.

For Release: June 4 , 2007, 12:01 am (ET)

CHICAGO - Too much of a good thing can be harmful, especially when it comes to children playing sports. As more children and adolescents participate in organized and recreational sports, pediatricians are seeing an increasing number of children and adolescents with overuse injuries caused by too much training and not enough rest.

A new American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) clinical report entitled “Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes,” defines an overuse injury as a micro traumatic injury to a bone, muscle or tendon that has been subjected to repetitive stress without sufficient time to heal or undergo the natural healing process. The risks of overuse are more serious in the pediatric/adolescent athlete because the growing bone of the young athlete cannot handle as much stress as the mature bones of adults.

The report recommends young athletes limit training in one sport to no more than five days a week, with at least one day off from any organized physical activity. In addition, athletes should take time off from one sport for two to three months each year. Taking a break from a sport allows injuries to heal and the opportunity to work on strength training and conditioning to reduce the risk of future injuries. It also helps kids take a psychological break, which is necessary to avoid burnout, or overtraining syndrome.

Symptoms of burnout include chronic muscle or joint pain, personality changes, elevated resting heart rate, decreased sport performance, fatigue, lack of enthusiasm about practice or competition, or difficulty completing ordinary activities. It’s imperative that youth athletes are educated about appropriate nutrition and fluids, and how to avoid hypothermia, hyperthermia, overtraining, overuse injuries, and burnout. Additional recommendations the report suggests include:

  • Weekly training time, number of repetitions, or total distance should not increase by more than 10 percent weekly.
  • Focus of sports should be on fun, skill acquisition, safety and sportsmanship.
  • Join only one team per season.
  • Be aware of risks associated with weekend tournaments (soccer, baseball, tennis), such as heat-related illness, nutritional deficiencies, overuse injuries and burnout.
  • Multi-sport athletes who use the same body parts for different sports especially need to take a break between seasons to avoid overuse injuries.
  • Getting caught up in making the professional leagues or Olympics is unrealistic. Children and adolescents train year-round on multiple teams of one sport often with the hope of earning a college scholarship in that sport or becoming a professional athlete, but less than 1 percent of high school athletes make it to the professional level.

The report also addresses youth participation in endurance events such as triathlons, marathons and half-marathons. Triathlons are reasonably safe as long as the events are modified to be age appropriate. Specifically, such events should be of shorter duration/length, and careful attention should be given to safety and environment conditions. It is fine for youth athletes to run marathons as long as training involves gradually increasing total weekly mileage, and they enjoy it. The report concludes that lifelong fitness and enjoyment of physical activity should be the overall goal of participating in athletics.


The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.