Overview of injuries in the young athlete

Sports Med. 2003;33(1):75-81. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200333010-00006.


It is estimated that 30 million children in the US participate in organised sports programmes. As more and more children participate in sports and recreational activities, there has been an increase in acute and overuse injuries. Emergency department visits are highest among the school-age to young adult population. Over one-third of school-age children will sustain an injury severe enough to be treated by a doctor or nurse. The yearly costs have been estimated to be as high as 1.8 billion US dollars. There are physical and physiological differences between children and adults that may cause children to be more vulnerable to injury. Factors that contribute to this difference in vulnerability include: children have a larger surface area to mass ratio, children have larger heads proportionately, children may be too small for protective equipment, growing cartilage may be more vulnerable to stresses and children may not have the complex motor skills needed for certain sports until after puberty. The most commonly injured areas of the body include the ankle and knee followed by the hand, wrist, elbow, shin and calf, head, neck and clavicle. Contusions and strains are the most common injuries sustained by young athletes. In early adolescence, apophysitis or strains at the apophyses are common. The most common sites are at the knee (Osgood-Schlatter disease), at the heel (Sever's disease) and at the elbow (Little League Elbow). Non-traumatic knee pain is one of the most common complaints in the young athlete. Patellar Femoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS) has a constellation of causes that include overuse, poor tracking of the patellar, malalignment problems of the legs and foot problems, such as pes planus. In the child, hip pathology can present as knee pain so a careful hip exam is important in the child presenting with an insidious onset of knee pain. Other common injuries in young athletes discussed include anterior cruciate ligament injuries, ankle sprains and ankle fractures. Prevention of sports and recreation-related injuries is the ideal. There are six potential ways to prevent injuries in general: (i) the pre-season physical examination; (ii) medical coverage at sporting events; (iii) proper coaching; (iv) adequate hydration; (v) proper officiating; and (vi) proper equipment and field/surface playing conditions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Ankle Injuries / epidemiology
  • Ankle Injuries / prevention & control
  • Arm Injuries / epidemiology
  • Arm Injuries / prevention & control
  • Athletic Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Athletic Injuries / physiopathology
  • Athletic Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Fractures, Bone / epidemiology
  • Fractures, Bone / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Knee Injuries / epidemiology
  • Knee Injuries / prevention & control
  • Male
  • Primary Prevention / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sports*
  • United States / epidemiology