More and more kids today are involved in organized sports like baseball, soccer, dance and swimming, with many playing year-round. While youth sports keep children healthy and build lifelong confidence and teamwork skills, injuries can occur.
According to Jasper Simmons “Sims” Riggan, MD, orthopaedic surgeon at Wake Forest Baptist Health – Lexington Medical Center, there are simple awareness and prevention tips parents and coaches can use to help keep children safe, happy and healthy playing sports.
“It’s important to pay special attention when our young players say they’re in pain or their body hurts after sports,” Riggan said. “Having a little soreness is one thing, but nagging pain or visible changes like swelling often signal a sports-related injury.”
He explained that sports injuries fall into two categories: overuse and acute injuries.
“There’s a trend now where youth sports are year-round, and there’s not an off season for some kids. High repetition of the same body motion can produce overuse.”
Overuse injuries happen when repeated motions of the body damage the tendons, bones or growth plates and are especially common in the shoulders, knees and ankles. Since children and teenagers are still growing, their tendons and bones are not meant to endure this strain.
There are several ways to help prevent overuse injuries in young athletes, according to Riggan.
- If a child complains of pain, rest and rehabilitation are key.
- Give them downtime from playing so they do not overuse their shoulders, ankles and knees.
- Another tip is to make sure the child uses equipment that is not too heavy and fits their body size.
- Proper conditioning, nutrition, stretching exercises and getting the right amount of sleep are also important.
- Finally, parents and teenage athletes should talk openly to find the right formula for how much playing time of specific sports is appropriate for their individual situation. For younger athletes, go for variety.
“It’s great to give children the chance to try different sports and mix it up, so they are exposed to different games and can choose what they like,” Riggan said. “This also gives muscles and tendons time to rest.”
Acute injuries are caused by a sudden force, such as a twist, impact or fall and are one of the risks of playing sports.
Responding quickly to acute injuries is critical.
- If a player is unconscious or unable to move, call 911 and get them to the emergency department immediately.
- Any blow to the head should be taken seriously, and if a child complains of a headache or nausea, he or she needs to see a doctor.
- Common sports-related injuries, like sprains to the ligaments in the knees and ankles and broken fingers, collarbones and ribs, should also be seen by a doctor and may require a cast or medication to heal.
“Remember, it’s important to listen to young athletes if they complain of pain because it may be an injury that requires medical attention,” Riggan said. “We all want what’s best for our children. We want them to be active and have fun. We also want to keep them safe so they can continue to enjoy the sports and activities that they love.”