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Children's Sports Injuries - Treatment and Prevention

Recognizing, treating and preventing sports injuries in children

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Updated September 05, 2009

Childhood sports injuries may be inevitable, but there are some things you can do to help prevent them.

Preventing Youth Sports Injuries

  • 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.
  • Review the Parent's Checklist for Spring Sports to help ensure a safe and healthy playing environment for their children who participate in organized sports
  • Make sure your child uses the proper protective gear, such as mouth guards or eye protection for a particular sport. This may lessen the chances of being injured.
  • Warm up Before Exercise. This 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.
  • Wear sunscreen and a hat (where possible) to reduce the chance of sunburn, which is actually an injury to the skin.
  • Stay properly hydrated while playing.
  • Know the warning signs of a serious injury
  • Treat Injuries with R.I.C.E.
    • 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.

Common Childhood Sports Injuries

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.

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.

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 are the long bones of the fingers, the outer bone of the forearm, the collarbone, the hip, the bone of the upper leg, the lower leg bones, the ankle, and the foot. If any of these areas become injured, seek professional help from a doctor who specializes in bone injuries in children and adolescents (pediatric orthopaedist).

Repetitive Motion Injuries

Painful injuries such as stress fractures (where the ligament pulls off small pieces of bone) and tendinitis (inflammation of a tendon) can occur from overuse of muscles and tendons. These injuries don't always show up on x-rays, but they do cause pain and discomfort. The injured area usually responds to rest. Other treatments include RICE, crutches, cast immobilization, or physical therapy. Also see: More Kids Developing Overuse Sports Injuries

Heat Injuries
Playing rigorous sports in the heat requires close monitoring of both body and weather conditions. Heat injuries are always dangerous and can be fatal. Children perspire less than adults and require a higher core body temperature to trigger sweating. 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, fainting spells), and heat stroke (headache, dizziness, confusion, and hot dry skin, possibly leading to vascular collapse, coma, and death) These injuries can be prevented.

Tips for Exercising Safely in Hot Weather

  • Recognize the dangers of playing in the heat.
  • 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.
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