Preventing Sports Injuries in Youth
More than a million kids ages 5 to 14 are injured each year in sports and require a trip to the emergency room, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Football has the highest incidence of injury, followed by basketball. Along with sports, the agency also reports significant injuries from things like playground equipment and skateboards. While high contact sports like hockey, football, lacrosse and martial arts might have a higher risk for serious injuries such as broken bones or concussions, even seemingly safer sports like swimming and track pose risk for overuse injuries.
While injuries are not uncommon, doctors say that sports are very important for children’s physical and mental health. Rather than avoiding sports as a way to keep kids safe, doctors suggest we work to prevent and properly treat sports injury in youth.
Screening. Before your child participates in any sport, get a medical screening with a pediatrician. It’s important that doctors rule out any unknown conditions, such as an underlying cardiac abnormality. By doing a physical with family history, doctors can identify children who might be at risk.
Learn proper form. Using the correct technique is crucial to preventing injuries. Take lessons or find a reputable coach who knows the proper form for different physical activities and proper technique for your child’s sport. That might mean more than one coach – a trainer who knows proper exercise form and a sports coach who knows proper form for different moves particular to the sport.
Invest in the gear. Wearing well-fitting gear appropriate for your child’s sport can significantly lower the risk of serious injury. Many times, youth don’t want to wear their gear properly – the helmet feels too tight, so they loosen the straps or it feels too hot to wear all of the pads. Talk to your children about the importance of wearing all of the gear correctly every time they are practicing.
Encourage rule following. Many sports have rules and regulations in place for player protection and injury prevention. Make sure you have regular discussions about how important following the rules of their sport is.
Build in rest. All pro athletes have an off-season where they change their training routine and rest more, which allows the body to recover. No one can go 100% in a sport year-round without risking injury or reduced performance. Make sure that your teen has a rest period between seasons.
Vary training. Instead of focusing on one type of exercise, encourage youth to build variety into their fitness program. Many injuries can be prevented by allowing the body to use different muscle groups. In addition to sports practice, young athletes should include low-impact activities, strength training for the major muscle groups in the arms, legs and core at least twice a week, as well as daily stretching for increased flexibility.
Start slow. Jumping into a new skill or program too fast is a quick way to get hurt. If your child is starting a new fitness program or new technique in their sport, encourage them to take it slow. Changes in the intensity and duration of a physical activity should be gradual.
Do not play through pain. Many young athletes believe pain is a sign of weakness, but it’s your body’s way of warning of a potential injury. Let your teen know that playing through pain isn’t a badge of honor, but rather a sign that they need to do something different, such as rest or improve form, or they will end up sidelined for a longer period of time.
Education. Every player and coach should be familiar with first aid, as well as the signs, symptoms, and treatments of common injuries. Everyone on the team should know how to perform CPR and use a defibrillator. They should also know that the signs and symptoms of a concussion can be physical, including headaches or sensitivity to light; mental, including confusion or difficulty paying attention; or emotional, including sadness and anxiety or inability to sleep. Concussions can present in many ways, and just because you experienced certain symptoms in one concussion doesn’t mean you will have the same ones in the next.
Seek medical help. If a player is experiencing pain or other symptoms, visit the doctor. It’s important to get treatment early to prevent greater injury. Again, trying to ignore pain or other symptoms is not a badge of honor, but rather your body’s way of telling them that they need to do something different, such as rest or improve form.
Don’t rush treatment. Once of the most common problems for young athletes is rushing back after an injury. Doctors often see repeat injuries – especially those related to overuse such as shin splints – because kids did not rest long enough or tried to jump back in to the sport too quickly. To avoid reinjury, youth must follow the doctor’s advice for a full recovery and use physical therapy to gradually reenter the activity.
Sports and other physical activities for kids are important for building good habits to keep moving throughout their lifetime. Sports also help youth reduce stress, improve teamwork, build leadership skills, increase self-esteem, teach life lessons, and provide fun. Despite the risk of injury, these benefits are too good to pass up, so instead use the steps above to prevent, and properly treat, injuries.