Playing sports is a fun activity for people of all ages, and something that young people often particularly enjoy. It’s an excellent opportunity for kids and teens to develop skills and be active, but it can also lead to injuries. Learning how to appreciate the good things about sports while minimizing the risk of injury is essential. Here’s a look at some common sports injuries, prevention methods, and treatment options so you can help your child enjoy sports as safely as possible.
Common Injuries for Kids and Teens Playing Sports
Sports injuries break down into two main types: traumatic injuries and overuse injuries. Traumatic injuries are easy to spot because they have a sudden onset; for example, a player gets hit and then crumples to the field holding their knee. Strains and sprains are common traumatic injuries. The former involves the muscle fibers or tendons, while a sprain involves the ligaments; both may be mild to severe depending on the amount of damage or tearing that occurs.
Overuse injuries are the other type of sports injury, and they are harder to notice because they develop gradually. Repetitive demands over time cause tissues in the body to break down faster than the body can repair them, resulting in overuse injuries. Tendinitis is a classic example of an overuse injury. If your child complains of pain in an area of the body, mainly if it gets worse during or after activity, they may be suffering from an overuse injury.
Prevention of Sports Injuries
Avoiding all traumatic and overuse injuries during sports is not possible, but preventative measures can significantly decrease the chance that young athletes suffer from sports injuries. Follow these prevention tips to help keep your child safe during sports:
- Communicate — Make it clear that your child should come to you if they experience pain, or something doesn’t feel right.
- Schedule a preseason physical — Sports physicals help evaluate whether a young athlete is ready to play and address areas of concern.
- Set realistic goals — Help your child set goals that are realistic and achievable. Then help them work toward those goals gradually.
- Encourage variety — Kids who focus on one sport and play that year-around are more prone to injury because they use the same muscles and joints over and over. Switching activities and playing different games during the year helps spread out the stress by using different parts of the body.
- Warm up and cool down — Proper warm ups and cool downs are essential for helping the body prepare for and recover from periods of intense activity.
- Rest — Time off is just as important as practice for young athletes. It gives the body time to recover and repair itself so your child can continue to function at their best. Tired muscles and continuous activity put young athletes at a higher risk for injury. Plan for time to rest between practices and sports activities; aim for at least one day off per week and one month off per year.
- Use protective equipment — Different sports require different protective gear because it helps protect against injuries common in that sport. Make sure your young athlete has the right pads, helmet, shoes, and other protective equipment for the games they play. Check for proper fit of all equipment and make sure they wear it regularly.
- Focus on the diet — Healthy eating provides the nutrients necessary for young athletes. That supplies the energy they need to play well and gives their bodies the building blocks required to repair tissues. You don’t need to put your child on a specific diet, just focus on overall healthy eating with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and lean protein.
- Remember hydration — Drinking water is also crucial for young athletes. Dehydration contributes to some problems and puts your child at higher risk for heat-related illnesses. Help them stay hydrated by making sure they drink plenty of water or other clear beverages before, during, and after activity.
- Follow proper techniques — Learning to do things the right way and performing them that way every time helps lower the risk of injury. Improper form is a common cause of overuse injuries.
- Pay attention — Remind young athletes to pay attention and watch for others during sports activities.
- Recognize injury — Playing through pain is not suitable for kids and teens, and often makes injuries worse. If you notice your child’s performance or technique change, talk to them about it right away. Recognizing an injury and beginning treatment as early as possible helps young athletes recover more quickly and lowers the risk of suffering a more severe injury.
- Adjust activity — Young athletes need time to adjust to playing new sports and should build up their training levels gradually. Adjust or cut back activity if they experience pain or other signs of stress.
Treatment for Sports Injuries
Although you can’t always prevent sports injuries, the good news is that most of the time they are mild to moderate and often improve with home treatment. Seek medical care promptly if injuries don’t improve after a few days of home treatment. If your child suffers from an overuse or traumatic injury, provide home treatment with RICE:
- R — Rest: Allow the body time to repair and heal by restricting activity.
- I — Ice: Apply ice to help reduce inflammation and pain. Use ice every hour or two for 20 minutes at a time during the first 48 hours after injury; avoid using heat during this time.
- C — Compression: An elastic bandage that puts gentle pressure on the area helps control swelling.
- E — Elevate: Keep the injured area elevated above the heart when possible to help reduce swelling.
Seeking Medical Care
For more serious injuries or when home treatment isn’t helping, you’ll need to take your child to an emergency room doctor. Seek medical care if you notice any of the following:
- Lack of improvement after a few days of RICE
- Pain that’s consistent during or after activity
- Painful pops
- Inability to bear weight
- New or lasting swelling
- Pain that doesn’t get better with rest
- Skin changing color beyond mild bruising
- Excessive swelling
- Deformities in the joint or bone
Enjoy the world of sports with your child while lowering their chance of getting injured. Understanding sports injuries, following prevention tips, and promptly treating injuries is a great way to help your young athlete stay safe and have fun.