Preventing Youth Sports Injuries
Reducing Sports Injuries to Keep Kids Playing Safely
Now that the weather is warmer, kids are hitting the athletic fields and skate parks for some healthful exercise. Parents need to keep an eye on their children and help them prevent a nasty injury that could take them out of their favorite game.
The first rule in sports safety is proper gear. This especially applies to footwear. Ankle sprains are the most common injury in the United States and often occur during sports or recreational activities. Approximately 1 million ankle injuries occur each year and 85 percent of these are sprains. The right shoes that fit can help reduce your child’s chances of twisting an ankle.
Warm-up exercises, such as stretching and light jogging, can help minimize the chance of muscle strain or other soft tissue injury during sports. Warm-up exercises make the body’s tissues warmer and more flexible. Cooling down exercises loosen the body’s muscles that have tightened during exercise. Encourage “warm-ups” and “cool downs” as part of your child’s routine before and after sports participation.
If your child receives a soft tissue injury, commonly known as a sprain or a strain, or a bone injury, the best immediate treatment is easy to remember: R-I-C-E (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation).
- Rest: Reduce or stop using the injured area for 48 hours. If you have a leg injury, you may need to stay off of it completely.
- Ice: Put an ice pack on the injured area for 20 minutes at a time, 4 to 8 times per day. Use a cold pack, ice bag, or a plastic bag filled with crushed ice that has been wrapped in a towel.
- Compression: Compression of an injured ankle, knee, or wrist may help reduce the swelling. These include bandages such as elastic wraps, special boots, air casts and splints. Ask your health practitioner which one is best.
- Elevation: Keep the injured area elevated above the level of the heart. Use a pillow to help elevate an injured limb. Get professional treatment if any injury is severe. A severe injury means having an obvious fracture or dislocation of a joint, prolonged swelling, or prolonged or severe pain.
Another often overlooked sports injury is heat stroke, heat exhaustion and dehydration. Heat injuries are always dangerous and can be fatal. Because children perspire less than adults and require a higher core body temperature to trigger sweating, it’s important to know the signs of heat exhaustion, which are: nausea, dizziness, weakness, headache, pale and moist skin, heavy perspiration, normal or low body temperature, weak pulse, dilated pupils, disorientation, fainting spells. The signs of heat stroke are headache, dizziness, confusion, and hot dry skin, possibly leading to vascular collapse and coma.
Tips to avoid heat-related injuries include:
- Respond quickly if heat-related injuries occur.
- Schedule regular fluid breaks during practice and games.
- Drinking water is the best choice; others include fruit juices and sports drinks.
- Kids need to drink 8 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes, plus more after playing.
- Make player substitutions more frequently in the heat.
- Wear light-colored, “breathable” clothing, and wide-brimmed hats.
- Use misting water sprays on the body to keep cool. NUHS clinicians say don’t forget to use sunscreen when outdoors. Sunburn is a very common sports injury and if children are overexposed to the sun damage while they’re young, they have a much higher chance of experiencing skin cancer when they’re older.
Exercise is beneficial for kids. Don’t let the fear of injury stop you from letting your child lead an active life and participate in sports. Just make sure they have the proper training in the rules of the sports they’re playing, and that they know how to use the equipment safely. It can help to match the child to the sport. If your child has a hard time running long distances, it may be counterproductive to push the track team. Finding a sport he or she truly enjoys will build good lifetime fitness habits and is worth the effort.
For more information on helping your child stay active, or for other questions regarding youth sports injuries, contact a National University of Health Sciences Whole Health Center.