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Childhood sports injuries may be inevitable, but here are a few preventive measures you can take:
- Enroll your child in organized sports through schools, community clubs, and recreation areas where there may be adults who are certified athletic trainers (ATC). An ATC is trained in the prevention, recognition and immediate care of athletic injuries.
- Make sure your child uses the proper protective gear for a particular sport. This may lessen the chances of being injured.
- Warm-up exercises, such as stretching and light jogging, can help minimize the chance of muscle strain or other soft tissue injuries during sports. Warm-up exercises make the body's tissues warmer and more flexible. Cooling down exercises loosen the body's muscles that have tightened during exercise.
- Don't forget to include sunscreen and a hat (when possible) to reduce the chance of sunburn, which is actually an injury to the skin. Sun protection may also decrease the chances of malignant melanoma – a potentially deadly skin cancer – or other skin cancers that can occur later in life. It is also very important that your child has access to water or a sports drink to stay properly hydrated while playing.
Treat Injuries with RICE
If your child receives a soft tissue injury, commonly known as a sprain or a strain, or a bone injury, the best immediate treatment is easy to remember. Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation (RICE) the injury. Get professional treatment if any injury is severe. A severe injury means having an obvious fracture or dislocation of a joint, prolonged swelling or prolonged/severe pain.
Rest. Reduce or stop using the injured area for 48 hours. If you have a leg injury, you may need to stay off of it completely.
Ice. Put an ice pack on the injured area for 20 minutes at a time, four to eight times per day. Use a cold pack, ice bag or a plastic bag filled with crushed ice wrapped in a towel.
Compression. Compression of an injured ankle, knee, or wrist may help reduce the swelling. These include bandages such as elastic wraps, special boots, air casts and splints. Ask your doctor which one is best.
Elevation. Keep the injured area elevated above the level of the heart. Use a pillow to help elevate an injured limb.
Sprains and Strains
A sprain is an injury to a ligament – a stretching or a tearing of tissue. One or more ligaments can be injured during a sprain. A ligament is a band of tough, fibrous tissue that connects two or more bones at a joint and prevents excessive movement of the joint. Ankle sprains are the most common injury in the United States and often occur during sports or recreational activities.
A strain is an injury to either a muscle or a tendon. A muscle is a tissue composed of bundles of specialized cells that, when stimulated by nerve impulses, contract and produce movement. A tendon is a tough, fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscle to bone.
Growth Plate Injuries
In some sports accidents and injuries, the growth plate may be injured. The growth plate is the area of developing tissues at the end of the long bones in growing children and adolescents. When growth is complete, sometime during adolescence, the growth plate is replaced by solid bone. The long bones in the body are the long bones of the fingers, the outer bone of the forearm, the collarbone, the hip, the bone of the upper leg, the lower leg bones, the ankle, and the foot. If any of these areas become injured, seek professional help from a doctor who specializes in bone injuries in children and adolescents (pediatric orthopedist).
Repetitive Motion Injuries
Painful injuries such as stress fractures (where the ligament pulls off small pieces of bone) and tendonitis (inflammation of a tendon) can occur from overuse of muscles and tendons. These injuries don't always show up on x-rays, but they do cause pain and discomfort. The injured area usually responds to rest. Other treatments include RICE, crutches, cast immobilization or physical therapy.
Heat and Hydration – Playing It Safe Is Cool
Playing rigorous sports in the heat requires close monitoring of both body and weather conditions. Heat injuries are always dangerous and can be fatal. Children perspire less than adults and require a higher core body temperature to trigger sweating. Heat-related illnesses include:
- Dehydration (deficit in body fluids)
- Heat exhaustion (nausea, dizziness, weakness, headache, pale and moist skin, heavy perspiration, normal or low body temperature, weak pulse, dilated pupils, disorientation, fainting spells)
- Heat stroke(headache, dizziness, confusion, and hot dry skin, possibly leading to vascular collapse, coma, and death)
Playing Safe in the Heat is Cool
- Recognize the dangers of playing in the heat
- Respond quickly if heat-related injuries occur
- Schedule regular fluid breaks during practice and games
- Drinking water is the best choice; others include fruit juices and sports drinks
- Kids need to drink eight ounces of fluid every 20 minutes, plus more after playing
- Make player substitutions more frequently in the heat
- Wear light-colored, “breathable” clothing, and wide-brimmed hats
- Use misting water sprays on the body to keep cool
- Seek shade whenever possible
Exercise is Beneficial
Exercise may reduce the chances of obesity, which is becoming more common in children. It may also lessen the risk of diabetes, a disease that is sometimes associated with a lack of exercise and poor eating habits.
As a parent, it is important for you to match your children to the sport, and not push him or her too hard into an activity that he or she may not like or be capable of doing. Sports also help children build social skills and provide them with a general sense of well being. Sports participation is an important part of learning how to build team skills.
Sports Injury and Prevention
The following “sports scorecard” shows winning ways to help prevent an injury from occurring.
Common injuries and locations: Bruises, sprains, strains, pulled muscles, soft tissue tears such as ligaments, broken bones, internal injuries (bruised or damaged organs), back injuries, sunburn. Knees and ankles are the most common injury sites.
Safest playing with: Helmet; mouth guard; shoulder pads; athletic supporters for males; chest/rib pads; forearm, elbow, and thigh pads; shin guards; proper shoes; sunscreen; water.
Prevention: Proper use of safety equipment, warm-up exercises, proper coaching and conditioning.
Common injuries: Bruises, cuts and scrapes, headaches, sunburn.
Safest playing with: Shin guards, athletic supporters for males, cleats, sunscreen, water.
Prevention: Aerobic conditioning and warm-ups, and proper training in “heading” the ball. (Heading is using the head to strike or make a play with the ball).
How Your Child Can Prevent Sports Injuries
- Be in proper physical condition to play the sport
- Know and abide by the rules of the sport
- Wear appropriate protective gear (for example, shin guards for soccer, a hard-shell helmet when facing a baseball or softball pitcher, a helmet and body padding for ice hockey)
- Know how to use athletic equipment
- Always warm up before playing
- Avoid playing when very tired or in pain
- Get a preseason physical examination
- Make sure there is adequate water or other liquids to maintain proper hydration
*Adapted from Play It Safe, a Guide to Safety for Young Athletes, with permission of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
For more information about Oakwood Sports Medicine, please e-mail SPORTSMED@oakwood.org