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Published on January 08, 2013

Should Kids Run Long Distance?

As a parent, you hear stories in the news of extremes – sad stories about the epidemic of obesity among inactive kids, and uplifting stories about remarkable child athletes who can run the 100 in 11 seconds or hit a golf ball 200 yards. And obviously wanting the best for your child, you want them to be in this latter group, capable of doing amazing things that will help them for the rest of their life.

But how soon is too soon? For instance, should young children be running long distance races? Should Jimmy or Sally be training for 5Ks when they’re eight years old?

Yes, maybe, says Steven J. Collina, M.D., Division chief of Sports Medicine for Crozer-Keystone Health System.

“If kids are running and they’re enjoying it and not experiencing pain, there’s no scientific evidence that says they should not continue,” Collina says. It’s more of a matter of gradually increasing the exercise load rather than doing too much too soon.”

It’s hard to get a truly accurate read on how many youngsters are running these days, but anecdotal evidence suggests it’s on the rise, at least partially because it’s a cheap activity for cost-conscious schools who’ve cut back their phys-ed budgets. The New York Times has reported that as many as 12 million youngsters between the ages of 6 to 17 ran for exercise in 2007.

Collina cautions that there are some risks for all of these younger athletes.

“The main risks that we see are stress fractures. That is somewhat related to mileage and nutrition, especially for girls,” he says.

Collina explains that very active athletes need to be sure to get adequate caloric intake. Running a lot or participating in some other vigorous sport requires a lot of fuel for the engine that is the body. “Young women make their bones in their teens and 20s and if they don’t make them then they’re at increased risk for stress fractures and osteoporosis,” he says.

Kids have open growth plates and get tendon-related pain, known as Osgood-Schlatter at the patellar tendon and Sever’s at the Achilles tendon. Plantar fasciitis is very common in adults but less seen in kids.

It’s recommended that youngsters who want to really pound the pavement get involved in a structured program with a reliable common-sense coach, one who understands training methods and is also invested in the child’s well-being and therefore aware of issues such as past injuries or allergies.

One last piece of advice from Collina: “Do not push through significant pain. If you have significant pain and it doesn’t go away after a few days of rest, you need to go see your sports physician.”

Crozer-Keystone Health System offers comprehensive musculoskeletal care. From conservative approaches to managing pain to spine and hand services, sports medicine, and joint replacement surgery, the physicians of the Premier/Crozer-Keystone Orthopedics Partnership will determine what plan works best for you. Appointments within 48 hours; call 1-877-CK-MOTION (1-877-256-6846) or visit https://www.crozerkeystone.org/services/orthopedics/form/

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