Having kids usually means a busy schedule packed with activities. Sports are probably at the top of that list. It may be karate, soccer, little league, basketball, or even dance but in any case you are probably running ragged to make sure each child makes it to their activity on time. Not only do you have to make it to games, but there are also weekly or even daily practice sessions.
While the time to do all these things can be tight, it is important not to ignore the safety aspect of youth exercise. Kids sports are designed, in general, to be safe but sports injuries can happen at any time. It is critical that you, as their parent, take these incidents seriously to prevent long-term pain.
In October 2014, the University of Alabama at Birmingham published a study about youth sports injuries. Most importantly, they looked at the patterns of juvenile injuries in relation to sports and exercise. They reviewed the records of two and a half million children who participated in sports and had been treated at a doctor’s office or emergency room for injuries. The most common sports injuries were caused by basketball, football, bicycling, playgrounds, and soccer.
Researchers believe that many of these recurring sports injuries can be prevented if parents and their kids take the right steps during sports and play preparation.
From David Schwebel, Ph.D, director of the UAB Youth Safety Lab:
“We see this most clearly in the early years. Children show increasing independence from their parents, and they’re learning what their body can and can’t do. Children have to constantly evaluate their body’s capacity in terms of balancing, reaching, jumping or leaping, or hitting an opponent or a teammate. Part of that evaluation is physical, part of it is judgment, and part is in cognitive and decision-making skills.”
Some sports injuries seem to be age-specific and others span the entire childhood development period. For example, playground injuries are most common in children under the age of nine but accidents on bikes often happen at any age. The peak for childhood injuries is age fourteen. While the five activities listed above were most likely to cause injuries, small children were injured more while bowling and the oldest teenagers, age eighteen, had issues with camping and personal watercrafts.
The study is quick to point out that parents shouldn’t be discouraged from allowing their children to remain physically active in sports and recreation. They note that the positive health benefits are far more important than the risk of injury. The researchers simply stress that safety should be a top priority for parents and the adults supervising these activities.
Common sports injuries in children
The most common sports injuries that occur in children include:
- Concussions: This may be the most concerning of childhood injuries. They are very common in football. Even the National Football League is starting to take head injuries more seriously after years of sweeping it under the rug. Children who have sustained a head injury should be watched closely and monitored for complications.
- Repetitive use or overuse injuries: More common with organized sports than playground activities, these injuries can include things such as stress fractures and tennis elbow. These injuries can result in chronic pain if they are not treated effectively at the onset.
- Strains and sprains: These may be the most common injuries among children and can happen during organized sports actives as well as general play such as bicycling or playground games. They can happen from an inconvenient injury such as twisting the ankle or due to overuse.
- Broken bones: So many kids don’t make it past childhood without experiencing a broken bone. Generally this type of injury can be set easily with a cast and will heal on its own with rest. More serious broken bones may require surgery or other forms of treatment. Again, the injury needs to be monitored so any pain does not become chronic.
- Tendinitis: This inflammation of the tendon, often in the ankle or heel, can cause pain and difficulty with range of motion. It is common in sports when running is a focus such as in football or soccer. This generally heals with treatment as well but can become chronic.
- Arthritis: Some children experience a premature wearing away of the protective cartilage in the joints, which can cause symptoms of arthritis.
Each injury will require different attention or treatment so it is recommended that parents not put off medical attention even for sports injuries that appear minor at the beginning. Bumps and bruises are normal but tendonitis, concussions, and other injuries need to be taken seriously.
Tips to avoid overtraining
One of the most effective ways to avoid repetitive use injuries and sports burnout is to stop overtraining young athletes. It can be easy to let the schedules get away from us as parents, but it is our responsibility to ensure the safety of our kids.
Some simple tips you can use to avoid overtraining and some of the most common sports injuries include:
- Take days off each week: Make sure your children aren’t training or participating in sports every day of the week. They need days off to rest their growing bones and muscles.
- Take a two to three month break: Depending on their sport of choice, encourage kids to take time off when not in season. This may be during the summer or during the winter. There is no need for every kid to play every sport all year long.
- Focus on the fun: Encourage your kids to participate in sports for the love of the game, not because of an overly competitive drive either in yourself or your children. It is important to remain balanced.
- Watch for burnout: Your child may be the best resource for their health management. Are they complaining about generalized muscle pain? Are they disinterested in playing the game any longer?
- Complete health and nutrition picture: Yes, activity is great for kids but you should also make sure that they are eating a healthy and balanced diet. The right nutrients will help them keep up the right energy and heal when they are injured.
What precautions can you take to prevent sports injuries caused during youth exercise?
Image by USAG-Humphreys via Flickr