Young athletes often look forward to their growth spurt, but it’s also a time to be cautious.
Health Watch : Dr. Nirav K. Pandya
With summer right around the corner, many young athletes wonder, “Is this the summer that I am going to grow six inches?”
Although growth is an exciting prospect for the athlete, there are several key points that directly relate to sports performance and risk of injury. First, our bones grow from an area called the physis (a.k.a. growth plate). These are areas of cartilage which eventually fuse with the rest of the bone when an individual is done growing.
On average, growth ends around 14 years of age for girls and 16 for boys. The majority of leg growth occurs at the end of the thigh bone (9 millimeters/year) and top of the shin bone (6 mm/year).
Due to the fact that the physis is made of cartilage, these areas are weaker than the rest of the bone, and can be susceptible to injury. For example, poor throwing mechanics and over-use can cause injuries to the growth plates of the elbow and shoulder (Little Leaguer’s disease) as these are weaker areas in the arm. In addition, if you are unlucky enough to break your bone while you are still growing, the physis can be injured. This can lead to larger growth problems down the road based on a patient’s age and amount of growth remaining.
Of particular concern for the athlete is that during periods of rapid growth, the muscles can’t keep up with the expanding length of the bone. This leads to muscle tightness and inflexibility. These tight muscles can cause chronic pain around the growth plates of the heel (Sever’s disease) and the knee (Osgood-Schlatter).
As a result, although growth may be an exciting time, young athletes should be aware that they need to be particularly vigilant about stretching, practicing good mechanics, and resting when their bodies are sore. The physis has amazing potential to turn us into mature adults, but also can be a source of pain and frustration for many athletes.
Dr. Nirav K. Pandya is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon specializing in pediatric sports injuries at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. He sees patients and operates in Oakland and Walnut Creek.
Check out this article in the digital edition of SportStars Magazine… Growing Pains
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