Editorial: Youth athletes need to know it's OK to say 'I'm hurt'

Playing through pain is something that is far too often considered a badge of honor in sports at all levels. Fans celebrate "gutsy" and "heroic" performances by athletes who we know are hurt but power through to help their team win.

At the professional level, it's one thing, but when it comes to youth sports, we worry about the prevailing attitudes and pressure to play through pain.


In recent years, we've seen attitudes change about concussions in contact sports like football and lacrosse, but there is less discussion about repetitive motion injuries in noncontact sports, such as baseball. Although these sorts of injuries don't affect the brain the way concussions do, they can still have lifelong effects, possibly requiring surgery and risking permanent damage if not identified.

Our hope is that parents and coaches have regular discussions with their children and players about sports injuries and soreness to help them identify signs of overuse that could lead to long-term problems — rather than putting pressure on their kids to perform while hurt.

The number of children participating in organized and recreational athletics continues to increase, and the age at which children begin playing competitively seems to be getting younger and younger. Meanwhile, it's estimated about half of all sports medicine injuries in children and teens are a result of overuse, according to several studies and reports.

Younger athletes are at a greater risk for overuse injuries because their bones are still growing, making them less resilient to stress. Children might also struggle to recognize overuse injuries.

Dr. Brian Polsky, an orthopedic surgeon who practices in Eldersburg, told us that the key is helping people understand the difference between the "good pain" of muscle exertion that comes with exercise and playing sports, and "bad pain," that feels like sharp stabbing or persistent discomfort that hinders your performance.

The latter could signal an overuse injury and shouldn't be ignored. When it is, often because of pressure from parents, coaches, teammates or even the athlete's individual drive, it can become counterproductive, going from a strain to a tear or rupture that might require surgery.

Of course, there is work that can be put in ahead of time to avoid these types of injuries as well. Coaches don't make players do warm-ups, stretching and cool-down exercises for jollies; they are largely done to help prevent injuries and should be taken seriously.

Parents and coaches need to take the lead when it comes to preventing sports injuries, so as spring and summer sports ramp up, it's a good time to talk to your athlete about recognizing types of pain they might be experiencing and knowing that it's OK to say, "I'm hurt."