YAC doctorsRecognizing the importance of athletics in the lives of children and adolescents today, Washington University and St. Louis Children’s Hospital have established the Young Athlete Center that specializes in treating this growing patient population.

Located at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Specialty Care Center at Interstate 64 and Mason Road, the Young Athlete Center offers the expertise of pediatric sports medicine and pediatric orthopedic surgery, together with specialists in physical therapy, sports psychology, nutrition, pain management and others.

When needed, Washington University pediatric physicians in such areas as cardiology and pulmonology also are available for athletic-related issues.

“We’ve treated these patients for a long time, but the Center is a dedicated approach to evaluating, diagnosing and treating young athletes,” says Washington University sports medicine physician Mark Halstead, MD, who serves as the Center’s co-director. “We are the only program in St. Louis to provide care by three pediatric-specific sports medicine specialists—myself and Dr. Terra Blatnik provide nonsurgical treatment, and my co-director, Dr. Jeffrey Nepple, is a fellowship-trained pediatric orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist.”

According to Dr. Nepple, today there is an epidemic of sports injuries in both boys and girls because of the emphasis placed on participating in year-round organized sports. “The number of children and adolescents injured while playing sports is staggering, and many develop issues we didn’t see 10 or 20 years ago,” he says. “As much as 50 percent of the injuries we see are related to overuse. Unlike in the past when young people played a variety of sports, today they usually concentrate on one sport and start playing it at a young age. The repeated use of sports-specific muscle groups can take a toll on young athletes.”

As in all of pediatric medicine, children and adolescents are not simply small adults; rather, they have particular needs related to an athlete who is still growing. Traumatic injury to growth plates or repeated concussions can have significant consequences for the future of young athletes.

“For this reason, the Young Athlete Center not only offers particular expertise in treating sports injuries but also in providing athletes, their parents and their coaches with the education they need to prevent injuries while enhancing performance,” says Dr. Halstead. “We already have partnered with local high schools and sports clubs to conduct injury-prevention programs. Our expanded facilities will enable us to conduct similar programs within the Center.”


athleteThe Young Athlete Center’s 4,000-square-foot expansion opened at the end of 2017. In addition to providing room for in-house educational programs, it offers facilities specially designed for sport-specific rehab, encompassing such associated aspects as running, jumping, kicking and throwing. Drop-down nets, throwing mounds and areas covered in indoor turf and hardwood provide playing surfaces on which athletes can simulate on-field activities. A 70-foot-long running track allows patients to gain enough speed for physicians and therapists to evaluate their movement patterns and guide recommendations for improvement. Wireless 3-D motion analysis technology provides the means to visualize how athletes are moving in order to identify at-risk patterns and provide education on how to prevent injury. Return-to-sport testing ensures all athletes are prepared to resume their athletic endeavors.

“The long-term health benefits of staying active are well documented, and today sports play an important role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” says Paul Jenkins, PT, MSPT, OCS, Young Athlete Center coordinator. “Our goal is to keep our patients safely in the game and playing as much as they can.”

Adds Dr. Nepple, “This additional space also provides us with the capability of conducting the research needed to continue advancing sports medicine for these patients.”


Keeping in mind that the Young Athlete Center’s patients are children and adolescents, medical staff members are committed to making patients’ experience as friendly and pain-free as possible. To provide the immediate attention many sports injuries need, same-day appointments are available. Minimally invasive surgical treatment is available on site; procedures that require an overnight stay are performed at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

“The Center offers same-day access to comprehensive care by medical professionals trained in pediatric sports medicine,” says Dr. Halstead. “Our ability to quickly assess, diagnose and begin treatment is important not only for getting patients back to their sport but also for giving parents peace of mind that their kids are receiving the best care available.”

For more information or to speak with a member of the Young Athlete Center team, call Children’s Direct at 800.678.HELP (4357).