Children benefit from participation in sports by learning to stretch their limits and learning sportsmanship and discipline. But sports participation also carries the potential for injury. Knowing the causes of sports injuries and how to prevent them is an important consideration for children and their parents.
Several factors contribute to children’s sports injuries, including lack of coordination and slower reaction times for younger children, difference in maturation rate for children playing the same sport, and more likelihood of risk taking for children than adults in sports.
Guidelines for parents when considering sports for their children:
- Use of Proper Equipment
- “Protective equipment should be approved by the organizations that govern each of the sports. Hockey facemasks, for example, should be approved by the Hockey Equipment Certification Council (HECC) or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). Bicycle helmets should have a safety certification sticker from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
- Also, all equipment should be properly maintained to ensure its effectiveness. In the United States, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) sets many of the standards for helmets, facemasks, and shin guards. In addition to meeting the NOSCAE standards, all equipment should be properly maintained to ensure its effectiveness over time.”
- Maintenance and Appropriateness of Playing Surfaces
- “Check that playing fields are not full of holes and ruts that might cause kids to fall or trip. Kids doing high-impact sports, like basketball and running, should do them on surfaces like tracks and wooden basketball courts, which can be more forgiving than surfaces like concrete.”
- Adequate Adult Supervision and Commitment to Safety
- Select teams and leagues that have the same commitment to safety that you do.
- Make certain the team coach has first aid and CPR training.
- Coaches should foster good sportsmanship, not win-at-all-costs attitudes.
- Coaches should enforce playing rules and require safety equipment.
- Children should be matched for sports according to their size, skill level and maturity.
- Proper Preparation
- Teach the sport to children before expecting them to play competitively.
- Warm-ups and training sessions help reduce the chances of injury.
- Fluids and rest during practice and games help reduce the chances of injury.
The American College of Sports Medicine estimates that 50% of overuse injuries in children and adolescents are preventable.
Common types of sports injuries for children include:
- Acute injuries – usually associated with some form of trauma and frequently caused by lack of protective equipment or misuse of equipment.
- For younger children, bruises, sprains and strains are most common.
- For teens, more sever injuries are likely, including broken bones and torn ligaments.
- Regardless of age, more serious acute injuries such as eye injuries, broken bones, ligament injuries, brain injuries, and spinal cord injuries may occur.
- Overuse injuries -occur from repetitive actions that put too much stress on bones and muscles, more dangerous in children as they may affect bone growth. Most common overuse injuries include:
- anterior knee pain – tendon or cartilage inflammation in front of knee under kneecap;
- Little League elbow – pain an tenderness in elbow resulting from repetitive throwing;
- swimmer’s shoulder – inflammation of shoulder caused by repeated stress;
- shin splints – pain and discomfort on front of lower leg, frequently from hard surface running or overtraining at beginning of season;
- spondylolysis – persistent lower back pain, associated with repetitive flexing, overextension, twisting or compression of back muscles.
- Reinjuries – occur when athletes return to sports activities before a previous injury is sufficiently healed.
Treating Sports Pediatric Sports Injuries
- “Better safe than sorry” approach is recommended for acute injuries. Administer first aid, then go to a doctor or hospital, depending on how serious the injury appears.
- For overuse injuries, children should be examined by a doctor to determine cause of pain, and diagnose and treat the injuries to prevent chronic problems.
- Prevention of reinjuries is best accomplished by following instructions for rest and adjusting technique or schedule to avoid flare-up of original injury.