Kids and Injuries: Don't Go Overboard

Kids need exercise, but how much is too much? Karen Springen asked Dr. Joel S. Brenner, a runner and pediatric sports-medicine specialist in Norfolk, Va., and lead author of "Overuse Injuries, Overtraining and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes" in this month's Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

SPRINGEN: How much exercise should school-age kids get?
BRENNER: At least 60 minutes of vigorous exercise a day. It can be 20 minutes here, 10 minutes there. It can be free-play things like tag and jumping rope. But do one particular sport no more than five days a week.

What about toddlers?
Hopefully most toddlers are active, as long as their parents aren't just plopping them in front of the TV.

How much is too much?
If your child is complaining about fatigue or having muscle pain, decreased energy, not excited about playing their sport, that might be a sign that it's too much for them. More than 50 percent of injuries in children in sports is overuse. These injuries can keep them out for a season, or even longer.

What are the most common overuse injuries kids get?
Some of it is sport-specific. So there are shoulder problems, like rotator cuffs and tendinitis, in baseball and softball players and swimmers. There are stress fractures, growth-plate injuries.

When are injuries most likely?
During the big growth spurt, in puberty, because the bones are growing and not as strong. But we see it from age 8 up through high school. Make sure kids have at least one day off a week from organized sports.

Can any of these injuries be permanent?
Some can be career-ending. For instance, gymnasts or cheerleaders or football players can get stress fractures in their spine that could cause chronic back pain.

Kids who do a particular sport need time off from it. How much?
Our recommendation is two to three months off a year from that sport. That doesn't have to be a continuous two to three months. It can be a month here, a few weeks there. You don't want them to be not doing their sport for three months straight.