Sports Injury Prevention Tips

We encourage children to exercise and participate in sports because these activities promote physical and mental wellbeing. Many sports, however, carry a risk of injury, either due to the contact with the other players or from what we call “overuse”—just moving the same muscle groups too much, too often. The following tips are from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

What causes these injuries?

In general, the more player-to-player contact that a sport involves, the greater the risk of injury it will have. Most injuries in young athletes, however, are due to overuse.

What parts of the body get injured most frequently?

Most injuries occur to ligaments (the tough, flexible connective tissues that connect 2 bones or cartilages together), tendons (strong fibrous cords, which are flexible but inelastic, that attach muscles to bones), and muscles.

The most frequent sports injuries are sprains (injuries to ligaments) and strains (injuries to muscles), caused when an abnormal stress is placed on tendons, joints, bones, and muscle.

Only about 5 percent of sports injuries involve broken bones; however, certain sectors of a child’s bone periodically experience episodes of rapid growth, and it is these places that are at greatest risk of injury. Therefore, if you should ever discover “point tenderness” over a bone—that is, if you can push down on a certain spot and cause pain—you should have that place evaluated further by a medical provider, even if there is minimal swelling or limitation in motion.

Contact your pediatrician if you have additional questions or concerns.

To reduce the risk of injury

  • Take time off. Plan to have at least 1 day off per week from a particular sport, to allow the body to recover.
  • Wear the right gear. Players should wear appropriate and correctly fitted protective equipment such as pads (over the neck, shoulders, elbows, chest, knees, and shins), helmets, mouthpieces, face guards, protective cups, and eyewear.
  • Young athletes should be warned that their protective gear might not always protect them when they are performing more dangerous or risky sports and activities.
  • Strengthen muscles. Conditioning exercises before games and during practices are meant to strengthen the muscles used in play.
  • During the off-season, try to stay in shape or return gradually to activity. We see a lot of injuries during those times when children return to sports. For example, if a child who runs track hasn’t been running for a few months, she can’t expect to jump right back in where she left off at the end of the previous season.
  • Increase flexibility. Stretching exercises before and after games or practices can increase flexibility and thus help prevent injuries.
  • Use proper technique. The correct movements should be reinforced during the playing season.
  • Break for rest. Rest periods during practice and games can reduce injuries and prevent heat illness.
  • Play safe. Make and enforce strict rules against headfirst sliding in baseball and softball, spearing in football (blocking by ramming with the helmet, head down), and body checking in ice hockey.
  • If there is pain, stop the activity.
  • Protect children from heat injury by having them wear light clothing and drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise or play.
  • Decrease or stop practices or competitions during periods of high heat and humidity
  • In summer, always prepare your child for playing outdoors in the heat. (See a previous blog of mine, Keeping Them Cool in the Heat.)

Sports-related emotional stress

The pressure to win can cause significant emotional stress for a child. Sadly, many coaches and parents consider winning the most important aspect of sports. Young athletes should be judged on effort, sportsmanship, and hard work.

Young players should be rewarded for trying hard and for improving their skills, rather than be punished or criticized for losing a game or competition. Developing proper skills and technique as children is much more important than winning. The main goal should be to have fun and learn lifelong physical activity skills.

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