Sports Safety for Kids

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR

Sports and physical exercise have both physical (fitness, coordination, and weight maintenance) and emotional (self-esteem, self-discipline, and confidence) benefits for children. However, participation in sports always carries the risk of injury, and children's sports are no exception. According to statistics from the U.S. National Institutes of Health(NIH), children aged five through 14 sustained an estimated 2.38 million sports and recreational injuries per year from 1997 through 1999. While the majority of sports injuries are minor, some can result in serious conditions and even lifelong medical problems.

Since children's bodies are still growing, the potential for damage to bones, tendons, muscles, and ligaments is greater than that for adults. Growing bones contain anatomic regions known as growth plates (regions of cartilage where bone growth is occurring) that are weaker than surrounding tissues and are particularly vulnerable to injury. This means that an injury that might lead only to minor damage in an adult could lead to a serious growth plate injury and even a broken bone in a growing child. Children who play contact sports are also at risk for trauma to the spinal cord and neck.