Having active kids inevitably means they’re more likely to suffer scrapes and knocks. This can be scary for parents but shouldn’t put you off letting your kids play sports.
Carol was sitting in her office when the phone rang. “Carol? Your son, Josh, was injured during football training. His knee may be badly hurt. He is going to the Emergency Department of the Mater Children’s Hospital. Please go to the emergency room right away.” She tried to remain composed, but could feel panic creeping through her body. With her breathing shallow and heart pounding, she dropped everything and tried to remember how to get to the hospital.
In the past, Josh had only experienced scrapes and bruises, like most kids his age. Carol was hesitant to let him play a rough sport like football that requires considerable physical contact. But she chose not to keep him from playing his favorite sport. Now she was facing her child’s first major injury.
Childhood Sports Injuries: A Common and Serious Problem
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics six out of 10 children aged between five and 14 years participate in organized sports. Still more participate in informal recreational activities. Although sports participation provides numerous physical and social benefits, it also has a downside: the risk of sports-related injuries. These injuries are by far the most common cause of musculoskeletal injuries in children treated in emergency departments. They are also the single most common cause of injury-related primary care office visits.
The Most Common Sports-Related Injuries in Kids. Although sports injuries can range from scrapes and bruises to serious brain and spinal cord injuries, most fall somewhere between the two extremes. Here are some of the more common types of injuries.
Sprains and Strains
A sprain is an injury to a ligament, one of the bands of tough, fibrous tissue that connects two or more bones at a joint and prevents excessive movement of the joint. An ankle sprain is the most common athletic injury.
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 messages, contract and produce movement. A tendon is a tough, fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscle to bone. Muscles in any part of the body can be injured.
Growth Plate Injuries
In some sports accidents and injuries, the growth plate may be injured. The growth plate is the area of developing tissues at the end of the long bones in growing children and adolescents. When growth is complete, sometime during adolescence, the growth plate is replaced by solid bone. The long bones in the body include:
- the long bones of the hand and fingers (metacarpals and phalanges)
- both bones of the forearm (radius and ulna)
- the bone of the upper leg (femur)
- the lower leg bones (tibia and fibula)
- the foot bones (metatarsals and phalanges).
If any of these areas become injured, it’s important to seek professional help from an Orthopaedic Surgeon, a Doctor who specializes in bone injuries.
Repetitive Motion Injuries
Painful injuries such as stress fractures (a hairline fracture of the bone that has been subjected to repeated stress) and tendinitis (inflammation of a tendon) can occur from overuse of muscles and tendons. Some of these injuries don’t always show up on x rays, but they do cause pain and discomfort. The injured area usually responds to rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). Other treatments can include crutches, cast immobilization, and physical therapy.
The most common repetitive motion injuries in children are Shin Splints and Osgood Schlatters Syndrome (read our article on Osgood Schlatter’s for more information).
Heat-related illnesses include:
- dehydration (deficit in body fluids)
- heat exhaustion (nausea, dizziness, weakness, headache, pale and moist skin heavy perspiration, normal or low body temperature, weak pulse, dilated pupils, disorientation, and fainting spells)
- heat stroke (headache, dizziness, confusion, and hot dry skin, possibly leading to vascular collapse, coma, and death).
Heat injuries are always dangerous and can be fatal. Heat-related injuries are a particular problem for children because children perspire less than adults and require a higher core body temperature to trigger sweating. Playing rigorous sports in the heat requires close monitoring of both body and weather conditions. Fortunately, heat-related illnesses can be prevented.
Preventing and Treating Injuries
Injuries can happen to any child who plays sports, but there are some things that can help prevent and treat injuries.
Enroll your child in organized sports through schools, community clubs, and recreation areas that are properly maintained. Any organized team activity should demonstrate a commitment to injury prevention. Coaches should be trained in first aid and CPR, and should have a plan for responding to emergencies.
- Coaches should be well versed in the proper use of equipment, and should enforce rules on equipment use.
- Organized sports programs may have adults on staff who are certified medical professionals such as Doctors or Physiotherapists. These individuals are trained to prevent, recognize, and provide immediate care for athletic injuries.
- Make sure your child has—and consistently uses—proper gear for a particular sport. This may reduce the chances of being injured.
- Make warm-ups and cool-downs part of your child’s routine before and after sports participation. Warm-up exercises make the body’s tissues warmer and more flexible. Cool-down exercises loosen muscles that have tightened during exercise.
- Make sure your child has access to water or a sports drink while playing. Encourage him or her to drink frequently and stay properly hydrated. Remember to include sunscreen and a hat (when possible) to reduce the chance of sunburn, which is a type of injury to the skin. Sun protection may also decrease the chances of skin cancers that can occur later in life.
- Learn and follow safety rules and suggestions for your child’s particular sport. You’ll find some more sport-specific safety suggestions below.
Treatment for sports-related injuries will vary by injury. But if your child suffers a soft tissue injury (such as a sprain or strain) or a bone injury, the best immediate treatment is easy to remember: RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) the injury. Get professional treatment to determine the injury severity. A severe injury such as an obvious fracture or dislocation of a joint, swelling, or prolonged or severe pain should be seen to immediately.
Keep Kids Exercising
Luckily for Josh, his injury wasn’t serious. In a few weeks, he will be fully recovered and able to play again. Even though Josh got hurt, it’s important that he continue some type of regular exercise and sports involvement after the injury heals. Exercise may reduce his chances of obesity, which is becoming more common in children. It may also reduce his risk of diabetes, a disease that can be associated with a lack of exercise and poor eating habits. Exercise also helps him build social skills and provides him with a general sense of well-being. Sports participation is an important part of learning how to build team skills.
As a parent, it is important for you to encourage your children to be physically active. It’s also important to match your child to the sport, and not push him or her too hard into an activity that he or she may not like or be capable of doing. Teach your children to follow the rules and to play it safe when they get involved in sports, so they’ll spend more time having fun in the game and be less likely to be sidelined with an injury. You should be mindful of the risks associated with different sports and take important measures to reduce the chance of injury.