Keep Your Kids Safe in Sports
By Gail Belsky
Of the more than 38 million American kids who play sports, less than 10 percent get seriously injured during practice or a game. But that figure is steadily rising as more kids compete year-round in numerous sports activities.
Growing bones can’t handle the physical demands of so much training and playing. And if damage to bones, muscles and tendons doesn’t have a chance to fully heal, it leads to overuse injuries, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The most dangerous sport is football, which sends 1 million kids under the age of 18 to hospitals, emergency rooms and doctors’ offices, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Soccer is next (with 370,000 visits), and cheerleading (with 75,000 injuries) is the leading cause of serious injury to girls.
To protect your kids from serious sports injuries, prevention is key. Make sure they consistently use proper gear, do warm-up and cool-down exercises, and use facilities that are well-maintained. Check that their coaches are trained in first aid and CPR, or that there is a certified athletic trainer on site to provide immediate care that will put your kids back in the game -- without further injury.
But if an accident does occur, be prepared. Here’s how to spot and treat the most common injuries in kids’ sports:
1. Sprains and Strains
- What they are: Sprains occur when ligaments, the tissue that connects two or more bones, are stretched or torn. Ankle sprains are the most common sports injury, according to the National Institutes of Health. Strains occur when muscles or tendons are stretched or torn.
- What they look like: Symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising and difficulty moving the joint. Strains may also cause muscle spasms.
- What to do: Give them rest, ice, compression and elevation. That usually works for mild injuries, but more serious ones may require surgery, according to the Mayo Clinic. See a doctor if your child can’t walk more than four steps without feeling a lot of pain or numbness, or if he has redness or streaks coming out from the injured site.
2. Growth Plate Injuries
- What they are: Growth plates are areas of developing tissue at the end of the long bones (hands, forearms, upper and lower legs, and feet.) Eventually the plates are replaced by solid bone, but in the meantime, they are particularly vulnerable to injury.
- What to do: See an orthopedic surgeon immediately.
3. Repetitive Motion Injuries
- What they are: Injuries caused by the overuse of muscles and tendons, such as stress fractures (tiny cracks in the bone) and tendinitis (the inflammation of a tendon).
- What they look like: You can’t always see these injuries on X-rays, but they cause a lot of pain and discomfort. Tendinitis causes tenderness, swelling and a dull ache. Stress fractures cause pain and swelling that increases with activity, and tenderness in a specific spot.
- What to do: Rest the injured area, apply ice or compression, and elevate it. See a doctor if the pain persists even at rest; your child may need crutches, an immobilizing cast, physical therapy or even surgery.