Injury Prevention in Youth & Teen Sports
Preventing Sports Injuries in Kids
Youth sports are a great way for children to be physically active while learning important values like teamwork and good sportsmanship, but injuries happen.
Over 38 million children and adolescents in the United States participate in organized sports each year and 2.6 million will be treated for sports-related injuries, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some of the most common sports injuries in children are associated with overuse. “That can be injuries in the elbows in overhead athletes or pelvis and hips in lower extremity athletes,” said Kristina Wilson, MD, director of primary care sports medicine at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. These injuries include sprains and strains, as well as fractures, which are more common in younger children since “their bones are a little bit softer and still growing,” Dr. Wilson said.
“I think we’ve really done a disservice to kids in our approach to training them,” said Christopher Wahl, MD, chief of sports medicine at the University of California, San Diego, department of orthopedic surgery. “They’re given one sport to play before they’re 10, and parents think they’ll fall behind if they concentrate on anything else.”
Concussions, a traumatic brain injury caused by a blow to the head, are common in high-contact sports like football and hockey. Symptoms, which don’t always appear right away, can include headache, dizziness, confusion, ringing in the ears, nausea, and vomiting. The American Academy of Neurology advises that any athlete suspected of having a concussion should be removed from play and get immediate medical attention.
Experts blame many sports-related injuries in kids on an overly competitive environment. “Kids are introduced to organized sports so early that they don’t really know how to play freely,” Dr. Wahl said. “There’s a perceived competitive advantage for kids who are playing all the time. Though some kids’ leagues have been good about implementing rules to prevent these injuries, I imagine it’ll be difficult to change the culture.”
Sports injuries may continue to impact a child later in life. The long-term effects of a concussion can include chronic headaches and memory problems. Overuse injuries can affect growth plates. “There’s an injury we treat called ‘Gymnast’s Wrist’ where there are changes to one of the growth plates in the forearm that can lead to abnormalities in how the bone ends up growing,” Wilson said.
Parents can help protect their kids against sports injuries. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), young athletes should have at least one or two days off a week to recover from games, practice, and training. The APP recommends taking two to three months off from a particular sport during the year.
Wilson also encourages parents to have open conversations with coaches and other members of the school athletics department. “Stay engaged. Sit in on practices if you can and go to games,” she said. “Asking the league or sports club how much they value safety and what kind of education they provide to their coaches are very valid questions.”
Parents should pay close attention to how kids respond to playing sports. Watch out for signs of overtraining such as fatigue, muscle or joint pain, or poor academic performance.
“We glorify every athlete who plays through the pain. But we need to teach kids to listen to their bodies if they’re sore and in pain, and tell them they shouldn’t try and train through that,” Wahl said.
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