Childhood Sports Injuries and Their Prevention

A Guide for Parents with Ideas for Kids

You are sitting in your office and suddenly the phone rings. "Ms. Ramirez? Your son, Raoul, was injured during football practice. His knee may be badly hurt. He is going to County General. Please go to the emergency room right away." You try to remain composed, but you can feel panic creeping through your body. With your breathing shallow and heart pounding, you drop everything and try to remember how to get to the hospital.

In the past, Raoul has only had scrapes and bruises, like most kids his age. You recall being hesitant to let him play a rough sport like football that requires considerable physical contact. But you decided not to keep him from playing his favorite sport. This is your child's first major injury.

Preventing Injuries

Childhood sports injuries like Raoul's may be inevitable, but there are some things you can do to help prevent them:

  • Enroll your child in organized sports through schools, community clubs, and recreation areas where there may be adults who are certified athletic trainers (ATC). An ATC is also trained in the prevention, recognition and immediate care of athletic injuries.
  • Make sure your child uses the proper protective gear for a particular sport. This may lessen the chances of being injured.
  • Warmup exercises, such as stretching and light jogging, can help minimize the chance of muscle strain or other soft tissue injury during sports. Warmup exercises make the body's tissues warmer and more flexible. Cooling down exercises loosen the body's muscles that have tightened during exercise. Make warmups and cool downs part of your child's routine before and after sports participation.

And don't forget to include sunscreen and a hat (where possible) to reduce the chance of sunburn, which is actually an injury to the skin. Sun protection may also decrease the chances of malignant melanoma--a potentially deadly skin cancer--or other skin cancers that can occur later in life. It is also very important that your child has access to water or a sports drink to stay properly hydrated while playing.

Treat Injuries With "RICE"

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. "RICE" (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) the injury. 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.

RICE

  • 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 doctor 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.

Sprains And Strains

A sprain is an injury to a ligament--a stretching or a tearing. One or more ligaments can be injured during a sprain. A ligament is a band of tough, fibrous tissue that connects two or more bones at a joint and prevents excessive movement of the joint. 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.

A strain is an injury to either a muscle or a tendon. A muscle is a tissue composed of bundles of specialized cells that, when stimulated by nerve impulses, contract and produce movement. A tendon is a tough, fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscle to bone. For more, please read the Strains and Sprains article.