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May 16, 2022

Understanding Running Injuries in Kids

ThedaCare Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Physician Provides Recommendations to Keep Children Moving 

Athletic overuse injuries are becoming increasingly common among youth runners, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). One estimate suggests that more than 50% of all pediatric sports injuries are related to overuse.

“More young people are participating in competitive and recreational running, which has led to an increase in the number of acute and overuse injuries in young athletes,” said Ryan Wagner, DO, an orthopedic and sports medicine physician with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “I think kids, like adults, often do too much, too soon. Because many sports involve running, the injuries we see result from many different sports activities.”

Dr. Wagner noted that running injuries in kids generally center on the hips, knees, and feet/ankles.

“Stress fractures, patellar or Achilles tendonitis, patellofemoral pain, shin splints, hamstring strains, iliotibial (IT) band strains, Osgood-Schlatter disease and even plantar fasciitis are some of the most common injuries we see,” he said. “Just like adults, youth runners need to progress in their training, gradually increasing mileage and pace.”

He added that another important aspect is practicing overall healthy habits.

“That means eating healthy foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water and getting good rest, especially after a hard workout,” he said. “It’s also important that kids take in enough calories to support the calories they are burning.”  

He also stressed that it’s important for runners to listen to their bodies and incorporate rest when their body is tired. Adding rest days can actually be a great way to increase mileage and reduce injuries.

Recommended workout/activity guidelines for young athletes include:

  • Rest 1 day per week
  • Take 1-2 week breaks every 3 months
  • Limit running to 9-10 months per year 
  • Alternate between high and low running volume days and vary training terrain
  • Youth under the age of 18 should not participate in marathons

Dr. Wagner highlighted the importance of stretching before running.

“Stretching increases blood flow to muscles, which helps them warm up and decreases the risk of injuries,” he said. “Stretching also increases muscle strength.”

He added that it’s important for kids to diversify their activities and workouts.

“Runners do not always have to run to work out,” he said. “Activities such as cycling and swimming are great ways to increase overall body strength and endurance, while placing less stress on the muscle groups involved in running. It’s also always important to build core strength.”

He likes to see kids play a variety of sports over the course of a year. That helps ensure different parts of their body are developing equally.

Dr. Wagner offered these guidelines for when parents/guardians should seek medical attention for a youth suffering pain from athletic activity:

  • Any injury that results in significant swelling or skin discoloration
  • Pain that worsens or escalates
  • Pain that migrates to another part of the body – for example, from the knee to hip
  • For those with a history of stress fractures, any pain in a specific bone
  • Sudden pain accompanied by a popping or other unusual sound

“If an athlete or runner is having discomfort, it’s always beneficial to seek guidance from a running expert, such as an athletic trainer (AT) at their school, a physical therapist (PT) or a sports medicine physician,” he said. “Our ThedaCare Orthopedic Care Clinics offer a comprehensive approach to treating runners or any athlete. We have physical and occupational therapists, athletic trainers, sports medicine and orthopedic physicians as well as surgeons. We all work together to provide a very comprehensive, goal-oriented, patient-specific approach to each athlete’s injury.”

Looking Ahead: ThedaCare Medical Center–Orthopedic, Spine and Pain

Dr. Wagner is looking forward to the new ThedaCare Medical Center–Orthopedic, Spine and Pain, which is expected to open soon. This will be the region’s only comprehensive health center specializing in orthopedic, spine and pain care. The 230,000 sq. ft. Center includes a medical office building, specialty surgery center, and orthopedic and spine hospital with 25 in-patient beds, as well as support services, such as imaging, lab, retail pharmacy and dining, for total patient care at a single destination.

The services offered will enhance access to specialized experts, where care teams understand each person’s unique medical background, lifestyle and personal goals, getting patients back to living their best life, sooner – including young athlete who might be experiencing an injury.

Among the many unique features at ThedaCare Medical Center–Orthopedic, Spine and Pain, our patients will benefit from surgery suites with the latest technology, private recovery rooms and state-of-the-art physical therapy equipment and facilities.

“The new facility will allow patients to access even greater integrated care,” said Dr. Wagner. “From the initial consultation to surgery, recovery and rehabilitation – it will all be available at the new location, which will make treatment even more comprehensive and convenient for patients.”

ThedaCare Medical Center–Orthopedic, Spine and Pain is expected to open in summer 2022.

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health of the communities it serves in northeast and central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 18 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including seven hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their best lives through easy access to individualized care, supporting each person’s own health and wellbeing. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand unique needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care

Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.

For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.