How much sport is enough for a child? When does too much sport become abuse? Is an over-use injury at a young age, in the pursuit of excellence worth the possible long-term consequences? Consider this:
Last week, an 8 year old boy, barely able to walk, was brought to see me by his mother. He had a severe limp, walking with his foot out and his ankle stiff, to reduce the pain. Three days previously he had spent nearly 5 hours doing athletics at school. His mother told me that the initial pain began more than 6 months ago, after he had played a lot of rugby.
The school under 8 team had been very successful, winning their area age group, so had a long season. Then he moved up an age group to under 9 which extended the season further. Nevertheless he continued with all sports, despite the pain and the fact that he was not running as fast as before. A compounding factor is that athletics and rugby are both done barefoot.
The timetable of sports reads like that of a professional adult, with daily practice depending on the sport and season, with inevitable overlap; plus the fact that the school plays some sports out of season as well.
The boy is obviously very good at his sports and according to his mother is always active at home whilst playing. However, this timetable with an injury would cripple most adults.
So what’s the point? How far must we/should we push or allow our children in pursuit of sporting excellence? We try to teach balance in most aspects of life, sleep, study, money etc., but when it comes to sport we seem to make up the rules as we go along.
After requesting X-rays of both feet and discussing them and my diagnosis with two different medical colleagues, it was agreed that the cause of the pain is damage to the growing part of the back of the heel bone, where the Achilles tendon inserts. Clinically called a Traction Apophysitis.
The initial treatment is rest and avoiding any vigorous activity that causes the Achilles tendon to pull on the heel bone. Raising the heel or possibly orthotics may help.
So ask yourself the question – is this youngster suffering an over-use injury or child abuse or both?
A full Case History will be posted during this week.