The single-sport focus among kids as young as 9 has become a new norm in New Jersey. But experts say that as kids shift away from opting through traditional seasons, trying out different activities, they're putting themselves at greater risk for injury.

"Since 2000 there has been a fivefold increase in the number of serious shoulder and elbow injuries among youth baseball and softball players," the STOP (sports trauma and overuse prevention) sports injuries campaign says on its website, citing research by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.

It says the number of youth injuries "is reaching epidemic proportions and youth are experiencing overuse injuries at a younger and younger age."

Dr. Charles Gatt of University Orthopaedic Associates said that in the past, kids who cycled through — for instance — soccer, basketball and baseball often managed to avoid overuse injuries. They are the result of repetitive micro-trauma to the tendons, bones, and joints. Common examples are Achilles tendinitis, stress fractures, and rotator cuff issues.

The STOP campaign launched seven years ago to combat the worrisome trend. The effort has amassed more than 1,000 partners, many of them here in New Jersey, to help "keep kids in the game".

Overuse sports injuries: Why & how NJ kids are getting hurt (Thinkstock)

Laura Gibbons, physical therapist at Current Recovery and Performance in Belmar, has the hindsight of a competitive athlete who dealt with multiple injuries. Gibbons said that as she played soccer 12 months a year (including NCAA Division One at Brown University), her parents had to "force her to take a couple weekends off."

She now explains to other young, ambitious athletes that when your body gets at least one day's break, it actually improves performance. Both Gatt and Gibbons stress that proper rest is crucial to avoiding overuse injury, as well as mental burnout.

Overuse sports injuries: Why & how NJ kids are getting hurt (Thinkstock)

Gibbons said while it can be difficult to get preteens and teenagers to open up, it's important for parents to check in and gauge how young athletes are handling a hectic schedule. And be willing to suggest backing off for a bit when needed, especially in the off-season.

She added the best thing a young athlete can do is seek out a preventative screening at a physical therapy site. There, motion can be corrected before chronic injury might put an end to dreams of college competition and beyond.

Proud Jersey Girl Erin Vogt’s first reporting gig involved her Fisher Price tape recorder. As a wife and momma of two kiddies, she firmly believes that life’s too short to drink bad coffee. A fan of the beach, Dave Grohl and karma, in no particular order.

Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook as ProudJersey.

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