If your child is an athlete, they’re probably excited to resume the sports activities they love this fall. But returning to play after time off comes with the risk of injury. 

It’s important to catch injuries early, before they turn serious. What should you and your young athlete watch for, now and every sports season? 

Connecticut Children’s pediatric orthopedic and sports medicine specialist Mark A. Rieger, MD, breaks it down.

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1. If Your Child Has Shoulder Pain: Little League Shoulder

  • Symptoms: Shoulder pain and aching with throwing
  • Common in: Baseball and softball pitchers, and any sport that involves overhead motion, such as volleyball or tennis
  • Treatment: Rest, splinting and anti-inflammatory medication, followed by gradual strengthening, stretching and participation in a throwing program

> Related: Return to Play Resources for Athletes

2. If Your Child Has Shoulder Pain: Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

  • Symptoms: Generalized or outer shoulder pain that gets worse with overhead activities; sometimes impaired shoulder strength and range of motion; difficulty finding a comfortable position to sleep in due to shoulder pain
  • Common in: Sports with repetitive overhead activities, such as swimming, baseball and tennis
  • Treatment: Rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication, followed by physical therapy
woman holding her elbow in pain

3. If Your Child Has Elbow Pain: Little League Elbow

  • Symptoms: Elbow pain with throwing, difficulty straightening the arm, and elbow swelling; in some cases, a bump on the inner portion of the elbow
  • Common in: Ages 9 to 14 in baseball and softball pitchers, and any sport that involves repetitive overhead motion, such as volleyball or tennis
  • Treatment: At minimum, several weeks rest followed by gradual return to activity; if the growth plate has been affected, several months rest followed by shoulder strengthening and participation in a throwing program

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4. If Your Child Has Back Pain: Spondylolysis or Spondylolisthesis

  • Symptoms: Can be present with no symptoms; most common symptom is low back pain, often worsened by bending backward and relieved by bending forward. May be accompanied by shooting pain, numbness, or weakness in one or both legs, buttock pain, and difficulty walking.
  • Common in: Teenagers participating in activities where the body bends excessively backwards, such as football, gymnastics, weight lifting, ice hockey, and butterfly swimming
  • Treatment: Rest, anti-inflammatory medication, possible bracing, and physical therapy; in severe cases, surgery

5. If Your Child Has Outer Knee Pain: Iliotibial Band Syndrome

  • Symptoms: Sharp or burning outer knee pain that increases gradually with climbing stairs, running, cycling and walking; may become constant and persist after physical activity has ended
  • Common in: Runners, cyclists and other athletes
  • Treatment: Rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication, followed by physical therapy; in more severe cases, steroid injections

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6. If Your Child Has Knee Swelling and Pain: ACL Tear

  • Symptoms: Knee swelling, instability, buckling, and inability to bear weight; sometimes, sensation or sound of a “pop”
  • Common in: Sports that involve knee twisting and pivoting, such as basketball
  • Treatment: In most cases, surgery, followed by physical therapy

7. If Your Child Has Kneecap Pain: Patellofemoral Syndrome

  • Symptoms: Pain in, under, or around the kneecap that may be constant or intermittent; can be brought on by activities such as climbing stairs, walking up an incline, squatting, or long periods of sitting with the knees bent
  • Common in: Adolescents, any sports or activity; may be caused by natural variations in the shape of the kneecap.
  • Treatment: Rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication, followed by gradual return to activity; in more severe cases, surgery.

> Related: Grow Competitive: Jordan’s Story

8. If Your Child Has a Painful Bump Below the Knee: Osgood-Schlatter Disease

  • Symptoms: Painful bump right below the knee that worsens when the knee is either completely flexed or extended, such as when climbing stairs, running, jumping or playing sports
  • Common in: Active 10- to 14-year-olds, especially athletes, who do a lot of jumping and sudden stopping
  • Treatment: In mild cases, stretching and rest from high-impact activities; in more severe cases, icing, knee immobilizer, brace or cast
woman holding her ankle in pain

9. If Your Child Has Ankle Pain or Swelling: Ankle Sprain

  • Symptoms: Pain and swelling; in more severe cases, difficulty bearing weight and significant bruising and swelling
  • Common in: Active children, especially basketball players
  • Treatment: Rest, ice, compression and elevation; sometimes anti-inflammatory medication, boot, and physical therapy; in more severe cases, surgery

10. If Your Child Has Heel Pain or Swelling: Sever’s Disease

  • Symptoms: Pain in one or both heels that gets worse with activity and better with rest; sometimes, swelling and redness of the heel, morning heel stiffness, and limping
  • Common in: Growing children – usually ages 8 to 13 for girls and 10 to 15 for boys – in sports with high-impact running and jumping, such as soccer and gymnastics
  • Treatment: Rest, ice and stretching; sometimes cushioned sneakers or heel cups

No matter the injury, your child’s symptoms should be completely resolved before they return to sports activities.

Book an in-person appointment or Video Visit with Connecticut Children’s orthopedics and sports medicine specialists for more information.

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