More American children are competing in sports than ever before. Sports help young athletes (children and adolescents) keep fit and builds their self-confidence. Unfortunately, injuries are nothing new in youth sports, and a potential problem should not prevent these young athletes from participating as part of an active and healthy lifestyle. Parents and coaches can and should play a big role in helping these young athletes stay in the game (so to speak) by teaching them about common injuries within their sports and best practices for injury prevention.
All sports carry an inherent risk of injury. Fortunately for the vast majority of young athletes, the benefits of sports participation outweigh the risks. In general, the more contact in a sport, the greater the risk of an injury; however, most injuries in young athletes are due to overuse.
The most frequent types of sports injuries are sprains (injuries to ligaments), strains (injuries to muscles), and stress fractures (injuries to bones). Injury occurs when excessive stress is placed on tendons, joints, bones and muscles. Contact your pediatrician if you have any concerns about any numbness, tenderness or swelling and follow the recommendations below:
- Take time off. Plan to have at least 1 day off per week and at least one month off per year from training for a particular sport to allow the body to recover.
- Wear the right protective gear. Players should wear appropriate and properly fitting protective equipment such as pads (neck, shoulder, elbow, chest, knee and shin), helmets, mouthpieces, face guards, protective cups, and eyewear. Young athletes should not assume that protective gear will prevent injuries while performing more dangerous or risky activities.
- Strengthen muscles. Conditioning exercises during practices strengthen muscles used in play.
- Increase flexibility. Stretching exercises after games or practice can increase blood flow and flexibility. Stretching should also be incorporated into a daily fitness plan.
- Use the proper technique. This should always be reinforced during the playing season.
- Take breaks. Rest periods during practice and games can reduce injuries and prevent heat illness.
- Play safe. Strict rules against headfirst sliding (baseball and softball), spearing (football), and checking (hockey) should be enforced.
- Never play through pain.
- Avoid heat illness by drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise or play; decrease or stop practices or competitions during high heat/humidity periods; wear light clothing.