Each year in the US more than 3.5 million sports-related injuries requiring medical treatment occur in children under the age of 14.
“Sports injuries are on this rise,” according to Cory Offutt, MD, of the TCMH Medical Complex in Houston.
Offutt attributes the rise in injuries to the increasing numbers of children participating in sport activities and to the younger age groups of children involved in these activities. Additionally, many sports involve more games that are more intense with competition at higher levels.
While children cannot be protected from injury while participating in sports or even playing in the backyard, there are many things that can be done to help prevent injuries.
Children of all ages that are involved in sports should begin their season with a visit to their healthcare provider. A physical examination will help ensure that the child is fit and ready for the rigors of a particular sport.
On the field or at the playground, injury prevention can be as simple as putting on a helmet, slipping on kneepads, buckling up a life jacket or wearing a mouth guard.
“A child should start wearing a helmet from the first time he or she rides a bicycle,” Offutt said. “Wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle can lay the groundwork for using safety equipment in other sports.”
A coach can provide advice about the appropriate protective gear for each sport. “A coach can also work with children to ensure they are following proper form for a particular sport,” Offutt explained.
As with any type of exercise, children should warm up prior to and after physical activity. Offutt considers stretching to be a “very important” component in preventing sports injuries.
Adequate hydration is also key to preventing muscle cramps, dizziness or fainting.
If a child is injured while playing, the injury may require a trip an immediate to the emergency room or a trip to the child’s healthcare provider within the next few hours.
“Some injuries obviously require immediate attention,” Offutt said. He provided the example of a head injury with amnesia, loss of consciousness or nausea and vomiting as a reason to make an immediate trip to an emergency room.
Other injuries may not be so obvious to the child or parent.
“Although they may not be easily seen, lower extremity injuries, pain while walking or impaired range of motion should be seen by a physician within 24 hours,” Offutt said.
Offutt explained that some “pains” may not always be immediately diagnosed by a physician and may require an x-ray or further testing.
“What may seem like a common sprain, may actually be a fracture,” Offutt said.
Offutt cautions parents of older athletes to watch for unreported injuries. “A small child will tell their parent that they are hurt, but an older child may not report an injury,” Offutt said. “Parents can watch their children for symptoms of an injury like a limp.”
Children that are already injured may increase the extent of their injury if they continue to play while they are hurt. A healthcare provider should be consulted to determine the extent of the injury and the need for treatment.
Offutt is positive about the involvement of kids in sports and doesn’t believe parents should hold their children back for fear of injury.
“The majority of kids should be able to play whatever sports they like,” Offutt said. “It’s important for kids to have fun with physical activity; exercise is an important part of physical health.”
Children with the right protective gear being used the right way will have the opportunity to learn play with others and learn sportsmanship and discipline while staying safe.