Why obese and overweight young athletes are more likely to sustain injuries

Grim indicators for young athletes affected by weight
Obesity and overweight issues continue to plague the young population throughout the country. Though efforts to increase awareness of the problem have increased in recent years, obesity rates for children and adolescents in the U.S. still rank among the highest in the world, and by most measures, aren’t receding. Along with ascending obesity rates, there has also been a steady decline in physical activity and fitness for youths that is in direct connection with these weight issues. To make matters worse for obese and overweight young athletes, many experts believe that excessive weight can cause those who do participate in sports to be more likely to sustain an injury than those of normal weight. Fortunately, there are a number of suggested preventative measures to be taken.

What causes the overweight to be at a higher risk?
A pool of studies that analyzed the relationship between obesity/overweight and young athletes was reviewed, and the majority of them showed evidence that either high body mass index (BMI) or percent body fat (%BF) led to increased risk of injury. In evaluating the specific types of injuries associated with weight, most pertained to the ankle and other lower extremities (knees, feet). The reason for the higher risk is due to lack of postural control, since those with a larger body mass have difficulty controlling it in sports that require sudden changes in directions. The ankle and other lower extremities are most susceptible since they bear the brunt of the weight during these sports. In addition to these initial mechanisms of overweight that cause young athletes to be at risk, poor physical fitness and low physical activity only worsen the situation. As a result, these forces at work can lead to a self-destructing cycle: an injury is sustained due to high BMI and low physical activity, recovery is slower due to the already-low fitness level, which causes more inactivity and further raises BMI.

How to bring the risk level back down
To avoid injury and the potential of a brutal recovery period, interventions are recommended that focus on weight loss, improved physical fitness and improved postural stability. Diet, exercise and behavior modification are considered the simplest and most direct ways of addressing weight loss and improving physical fitness. For postural stability, one effective and inexpensive intervention that has been noted is balance training, one form of which features a balance board for players to use during down time in sports practice. Physical therapists specialize in developing specific balance-training programs and other exercises that can help improve postural stability for young athletes. When used in conjunction–following a strict diet, increasing physical activity on a regular basis, and beginning a balance-training program–these interventions can go a long way in reducing injury risk for overweight and obese young athletes.

-Summarized by Greg Gargiulo

-As reported in the Nov. ’09 edition of the British Journal of Sports Medicine