Dr. James Andrews says young athletes need to cut back

Photo: Associated Press

The elite surgeon who has worked with Stephen Strasburg, Robert Griffin III and Bryce Harper all in the past year has a piece of advice for parents of young athletes - cut back on their activity or they'll probably be going to a doctor.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer in advance of the release of his book, Dr. James Andrews says that children and teenagers who play a sport or multiple sports year-round with minimal rest are putting themselves at great risk for lasting, serious injuries.

"I want parents and coaches to realize the implications of putting a 12- or 13-year-old through the type of athletic work done by a 25-year-old," Andrews told the Plain Dealer. "Parents and coaches, though they mean well, need to understand what the long-term effects of overuse can be."

Andrews is known worldwide for his work with high-profile athletes, perhaps most notably for performing Tommy John surgery on numerous pitchers and complex knee surgeries on athletes from across the spectrum. He's the one that performed elbow surgery on Strasburg several years ago and rebuilt Griffin's knee this past summer.

However, in his new book "Any Given Monday: Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them, for Athletes, Parents and Coaches," Andrews is focusing on informing parents about injury prevention, rather than repairing major injuries or assuming that they're inevitable.

The Alabama and Florida-based doctor says that he has seen injuries in teenage athletes go up by as much as seven times the normal rate in recent years.

Andrews' numbers are backed up by the advocacy group Stop Sports Injuries, who says that 2 million high school athletes are hospitalized every year due to sports injuries and that millions more under the age of 14 are treated every year as well.

He and other sports doctors say that two factors - specialization and professionalism - are the main reasons for the increase. Specialization involves a young athlete playing one sport year round, which ties to professionalism; the idea that a student will put in as much work as a professional athlete before their bodies are ready for that strain.

"They're thinking, 'What's more is better,' and they're ending up getting the kids hurt," Andrews told the Plain Dealer.

The Centers for Disease Control says that more than half of sports-related injuries in young athletes can be prevented.