ATLANTA - Hayden Mulberry has big dreams, so she is willing to play hard.
“I like the tournaments and the match play,” she says.
But the Marietta 10-year old has already been sidelined by an over-use injury.
“It started when I fell off of a tree and I broke my arm,” she says.
Then, with one arm in a sling, she over-compensated with her other arm.
“The injury affected my right arm for some reason, even though I broke my left,” she recalls.
Hayden developed a severe case of tendonitis before coming to see Emory Sports Medicine Physician Neeru Jayanthi for help.
Dr. Jayanthi was part of a major study looking into why young athletes get hurt. Researchers followed 1,200 youth players across several sports and found what happened to Hayden, getting injured and then injured again before fully healed, happened a lot.
“The biggest risk for injury is having had your prior injury,” Jayanthi says. “So, most of the time it wasn't a new injury; it was something else that was already maybe not rehabilitated or not addressed or their volume wasn't changed.”
Another key reason children get hurt is playing just one sport year-round. And the younger they specialized, the higher the risk for a sports-related injury.
“We found just specializing alone itself was one of your greatest factors alone for getting really serious over-use injuries,” Dr. Jayanthi says. “And that is because you just don't get a break. You get adult- level skills in young athletes with a child's body.”
Jayanthi encourages young players to put off specializing in one sport as long as possible.
“[Wait] at least to get to middle adolescences, 12, 13, maybe 14 years old,” he says.
Better yet: cross train.
Hayden Mulberry alternates between tennis and soccer. Dr. Jayanthi believes that balance will not only protect her, it may help her become a better athlete in the long run.