What Are Ways to Help My Child Avoid Youth Sports Injuries?
Kids that participate in youth sports benefit greatly from the increased physical activity, and they learn life skills that come from working as a team. Children that play youth sports are generally healthier, both physically and emotionally, as athletics help combat childhood obesity and childhood depression. While the benefits of youth sports are notable, they do come with some risk of various sports injuries. Millions of sports- and recreation-related injuries are reported annually among children and teens, and while many are not preventable, some may be. Here’s a look at what parents should know before heading into any youth sports season:
Why do sports injuries happen?
There are a host of reasons why a sports injury may occur. Some are simply unavoidable and just bad luck, but other causes of injury can include: poor diet and nutrition, a failure to properly warm-up and cool-down, lack of stretching, inadequate instruction on form and correct movements, old or ill-fitting sports equipment, poorly maintained playing areas, overtraining or exhaustion, or missed cues from coaches or other players during play.
What sports injuries are the most common?
While all athletic endeavors pose some risk of injury, some sports report higher numbers of injuries than others. Children are more likely to experience a sports injury while playing football, rugby, basketball, soccer, and hockey, when compared to other sports. Injuries that are reported the most include:
- Shin splints — Also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints are the result of overuse and involve inflammation and pain on the inside edge of the shinbone. Pain can vary from dull to sharp and generally resolves with a period of rest.
- Concussions — A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury, also called a MTBI, that is generally caused in sports by a blow to the head. A concussion can cause a loss of consciousness but doesn’t always. A child’s doctor should be consulted if parents or coaches suspect a concussion has happened. Rest and close monitoring for more serious symptoms is the most common course of action.
- Lumbar stress fracture — Also known as spondylolysis, these stress fractures are on the rise in young athletes. Most commonly, these stress fractures occur in the fifth vertebra of the lumber spine and are caused by overuse, especially in sports that require hyperextension of an athlete's back.
- Ankle sprains — Ankle sprains are some of the most common sports injuries seen among children and teens. A sprain occurs when the ligaments connecting the bones of the ankle together are either partially or completely torn. While severe sprains may need to be evaluated by a doctor, most improve with rest, over-the-counter pain medications and ice.
- Bone fractures — Broken bones can happen in varying degrees. Most stress fractures (tiny cracks in the bone) are caused by overuse, while complete breaks are more commonly causedby trauma of some kind. Both require medical attention, and treatment can include anything from a walking boot to a cast and more.
- ACL tears — A torn anterior cruciate ligament in the knee, also known as an ACL tear, is often caused by a sudden twisting motion. A complete tear of an ACL will most often require surgery and physical therapy for young athletes who wish to resume playing sports.
- Osgood-Schlatter disease — Also an affliction of the knee, Osgood-Sclatter disease is a repetitive use injury that causes a painful lump below the kneecap. It most often occurs during children’s developmental growth spurts and can resolve once a child’s bones stop growing.
How can parents and caregivers help reduce the risk of injury?
There are many measures adults can take to help protect youth athletes from injury, but it’s important to note that even children playing with the best equipment on the best surfaces and with the best coaches can still be injured. Reducing the risk should be the goal, however, and here are a few ways parents and caregivers can do that:
- Steer clear of overuse and overtraining. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most young athletes who are injured experience overuse injuries rather than traumatic injuries. Good guidelines to avoid overtraining could include: two days of rest per week, no more than a child’s age in hours of play per week (8-years-old = 8 hours a week), and less than eight months a year playing a single sport.
- Keep communication open with coaches. Getting to know your child’s coaches is good for preventing injury and keeping an eye on overall health of your child, including mental health, as a coach may recognize signs of burnout earlier than a parent. Talk with coaches about their techniques and training methods and ask them what their protocols are for keeping players safe while on the field.
- Encourage a variety of sports. Kids that play multiple sports throughout the year that require different movements and muscle groups are less likely to suffer an overuse or overtraining injury. Encourage your child to try different sports and find a few they like that support one another rather than focusing on one single sport year-round.
- Teach proper warming up and cooling down practices. Beginning when a child is young, encourage a proper warm up before any sort of active play, whether in the backyard or on the ball field. By making warming up and cooling down a habit, parents can help protect children from sports injuries as they grow. Around five to ten minutes of stretching and light movement is all it takes to reduce the risk of injury.
- Be a good role model. Children and teens who receive the proper amount of sleep at home and who eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet run less risk of injury while participating in sports. Since most healthy lifestyle practices are learned at home, parents, and caregivers play an important role in modeling healthy behaviors that can keep their young athletes safe while at play.
In most cases, the overwhelming benefits of youth sports and recreational activities far outweigh the risks of injury. If parents and caregivers have further concerns about their child participating in athletics, they should speak to their child’s pediatrician. Most sports teams require older children to receive a physical from a doctor, so that would be a good time to make sure all questions and concerns are addressed. For more information on childhood sports injuries, visit www.healthychildren.org.
By ABC Quality Team on May 24, 2022