A Guide to Preventing Common Sports Injuries

Whether it's low impact or high impact, slow paced or high energy, individual participation or team structured, every sport comes with the risk of injury. And some injuries are more common to specific sports. Soccer players, for example, are prone to ankle sprains, while baseball players are more likely to experience shoulder injuries.

Heath Thornton, MD, sports medicine specialist, discusses the parts of the body most at risk for sports-related injuries—and how you can help your child prevent them.

Ankle Injuries

Ankle sprains and fractures are not entirely avoidable, but a lot can be done to reduce them. Dr. Thornton advises wearing shoes appropriate for the activity at hand. He also says you should be aware of the surfaces your child is playing on.

"Often game and practice fields are not in the best condition," Dr. Thornton says. "Puddles, potholes and poor landscaping can greatly contribute to ankle injuries."

Knee Injuries

The most common knee injuries are ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears, MCL (medial collateral ligament) sprains and patellar tendinitis. Proper conditioning can combat many of these injuries—particularly the ACL tears.

Dr. Thornton says certified athletic trainers, physical therapists and sports medicine doctors are all good resources for this type of training. He suggests talking to your child's coach or athletic trainer about incorporating an ACL prevention program into workouts and warm-ups—if there isn't one already.

He also recommends that athletes train during the off-season to stay physically conditioned, and that they not push through pain if they're already experiencing knee discomfort.

Thigh Injuries

Pulled hamstrings are the biggest sports-related injury risk for the upper legs. Fortunately, stretching and warm-ups can go a long way toward preventing this type of injury.

If your child does experience a hamstring injury, proper treatment is important. "If an athlete has a pulled hamstring, continued activity without treatment of that injury can lead to worsening of the injury, or more severe injuries in that area," says Dr. Thornton.

Just as there are knee-conditioning programs, there are also training regimens for hamstring injury prevention.

Shoulder Injuries

Shoulder injuries, such as dislocations and torn rotator cuffs, are most common among athletes who are throwers (baseball pitchers, football quarterbacks, etc.), but they can occur in anyone who overuses their arms in sports or in training. To reduce the risk of these injuries, athletes should not only develop proper technique, but also focus on strengthening muscle groups throughout the body.

"When you're throwing, you need to use your legs, your core muscles and your back muscles," says Dr. Thornton. "It's important that those groups are strengthened so that the shoulder isn't over-stressed. It's also important not to spend all year—even in off-season—working on throwing. Mix it up with other training activities.