What parents don’t know about youth sports injuries long-term effects

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — Running has been Evan Jenkins’ favorite pastime for as long as he can remember.

“I’d always race my friends around the track at elementary school, just sort of a thing that I enjoyed,” the Carver Middle School student explains.

He expects some aches while he pushes his muscles to the limit, but he was not ready for what happened mid-stride during a cross country meet last month.

“I noticed a stinging pain in my foot during one of my races,” he says. “It was a stinging pain in my ankle that hurt a lot when I’d walk or run.”

Adds Evan’s mom Holly Jenkins, “We didn’t feel that he was complaining just because of a little soreness.  We knew that something was wrong.”

Holly treated Evan with Aleve and ice when he got home, but hours passed and then days and the sting remained.

“We decided that we needed a doctor to tell us what to do,” she says.

That doctor was Dr. Larry Benson at Ortho On Call in Chester. It is one of three local orthopedic urgent care clinics now treating 30-50 youth sports injuries a week. They’re most often sprains, strains and something called Sever’s Disease.

“Those can actually be fractures and lead to growth development delays and other problems,” says Dr. Benson.

He diagnosed Evan with Sever’s Disease, a painful heel injury triggered by growth spurts in young athletes. Evan grew four inches in the past year, and his feet had a hard time keeping up.

“I heard a lot of stories about other boys in particular of this age who have gone through this but I had no idea it could happen,” Holly says.

Left alone, this kind of injury can lead to permanent heel damage or the need for surgery. It is especially concerning because the Safe Kids Worldwide campaign found 42-percent of athletes under age 18 downplay distress so they can stay in a game.  Many of them also play the same sports year-round.

“You’re doing the same type of movements, the same type of things which are causing overuse injuries,” describes Dr. Benson.

He recommends switching up sports each season. Kids and parents also need to know when it is time to be sidelined.

“There’s a difference between playing with pain and playing injured,” says Dr. Benson.

For Evan, who caught his injury early, rest was the best medicine.  He sat out two weeks in the middle of his cross country season.

“It’s hard to get a 12-year-old boy to rest,” Holly says.

Sitting out some practices and meets gave Evan time to heal, however, and now he is back on his feet doing exactly what makes him happiest.

“Evan loves to run. He just looks like he’s in his natural element,” Holly says with a smile.

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