Stressing out: Fruita Monument’s Jennifer Campbell battling back after common setback
Once Jennifer Campbell tried running, she couldn’t get enough of it.
The 16-year-old runs for the Fruita Monument High School cross-country and track team. She loved running so much, her practice workout wasn’t enough.
Campbell would practice with the team as scheduled for 1½ hours, then come home and do a couple of exercise TV workouts for an hour, do some strength exercises, then run around the block a couple of times. She would spend three to four hours a day running or doing strength exercises and an additional 200 sit-ups.
Campbell ran so much, she developed a stress fracture in her left hip a few months ago.
Stress fractures are common overuse injuries that sports medicine physician Michael Reeder sees more and more in young athletes. Reeder cares for many high school and college athletes in the Grand Valley.
“I used to think I was really invincible,” Campbell said. “When it happened, I realized I’m not as invincible as I think I am. He helped me get a schedule figured out how I can exercise the smart way without hurting myself and still get better.”
According to an American Academy of Pediatrics study, up to 50 percent of all injuries seen in pediatric sports medicine are related to overuse. The study states the incidence of overuse injuries in young athletes has paralleled the growth of youth participation in sports.
“You’ve got to watch that competitiveness at a young age,” Reeder said. “There’s good evidence you shouldn’t have that competition be the focus of what you’re doing until the kids get into the mid to late teens for a lot of reasons.
“There’s evidence if you start a child too young, they get tired of it. They get pushed the wrong way. There’s a tendency in the last 10 years of kids dropping out of sports in the middle school years for a variety of reasons, but some of it is a change of emphasis from having fun and fitness to competition.”
Overuse injuries can be classified into four stages, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
Pain in the affected area after physical activity.
Pain during the activity without restricting performance.
Pain during the activity that restricts performance.
Chronic pain even at rest.
“The things we see are because the growing cartilage is vulnerable to overuse,” Reeder said. “You have growing cartilage in your knees, ankles and heels that will become painful if there is too much activity. Kneecap tracking problems is something we see frequently with it. The tendons are a little slower to grow.”
Overuse injuries are most common in middle school athletes, Reeder said.
Reeder believes young athletes are developing overuse injuries because they are focusing on one sport at an earlier age in hopes of getting a college athletic scholarship or trying to increase the odds of becoming a professional athlete.
“There’s no correlation they are going to be great players in high school or college,” Reeder said. “Especially if they are emphasizing one sport, it’s probably inappropriate. When they get more physically mature, sometimes it makes more sense.
“My theory is the kids that are good enough to go on, it rarely is because they emphasize that one sport as a middle schooler. It is because they are gifted from a talent standpoint.”
Campbell doesn’t necessarily have an aspirations of running beyond high school, but she never imagined all the training would cause the injury she had. She never developed shin splints or even had unusual soreness.
She did have a bout of mononucleosis and was determined to get back in shape after the illness.
“She gets so focused in her running,” said her mother, Julie Campbell. “She did pick it up after the mono, but before then she was extremely focused. She set personal goals and always tries to beat them. The mono had a big part in it, but I think most of it is because she pushes herself so hard.”
Campbell said she felt the need to push herself as much as possible to be successful in her sports.
“If you do more, you will be better,” she said. “If you do more than your competitors, you’ll do better than them.”
Campbell realizes it’s necessary to push yourself to succeed, but knows now to be smart about training and do other things to stay in shape for the cross-country and track seasons.
“During your offseason, you can do the same kind of stuff, but not with the races,” she said. “Most of the time, a lot of our girls got hurt because they weren’t training enough. (It’s best to) continue training but not overdoing it.”
Campbell and . Reeder came up with a training plan since her hip has healed.
Campbell would run for about five hours a week, then bike and swim the next week.
The AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness recommends limiting one sporting activity to a maximum of five days per week with at least one day off from any organized physical activity. Young athletes should have at least two to three months off per year from their particular sport, when they can let injuries heal and work on strength and conditioning.
Campbell was cleared to run again two weeks ago.
“It feels good,” she said. “I missed running so much. The day he told me I could run again, I was out that night.”