Strategies for Preventing and Coping With Youth Sports Injuries
Photo by Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock
When it comes to the safety of our children, we all want the best care possible for them. During or after a sporting event, however, a doctor or professional is not always available. Parents and coaches are often relied on to make an initial medical decision. As parents prepare for the spring sports season, from lacrosse and track to soccer and softball, it’s important to understand basic safety protocol to keep young athletes safe and as injury-free as possible. So, what health care knowledge should you know as your kids get in the game?
1. Know the common injuries in your child’s sport.
No matter what sport your child plays, he or she is at risk of suffering an injury. However, not all injuries are created equal, and some injuries appear to be more common per sport. For example, according to the United States Soccer Federation, ankle sprains account for 16-29 percent of all soccer-related injuries. Diagnosing your child’s injury is easier when you know sprains or strains are common in soccer as opposed to playing the guessing game.
2. Encourage your child to play multiple sports.
Overuse injuries, such as tendonitis or irritation of the growth plates, are common in children — especially if they play the same sport year-round. When any athlete plays one sport for an extensive period, he or she uses the same muscle groups and tendons repetitively. Over time this creates additional stress on that body part. Although playing year-round allows your child to stay competitive, repeated stress to certain areas can lead to more serious injuries down the road. Studies also show multi-sport athletes are much more likely to become professional athletes. Multi-sport athletes use different muscle groups and learn different types of coordinated movements, which expand their skill sets. Encourage kids to be involved in many different sports.
3. Warm up before sports activity.
One of the most important tactics to staying injury-free is ensuring your child warms up his or her muscles before any sporting event. Simply jogging in place increases body temperature; muscle temperature and blood flow to the muscles. Those benefits decrease the risk of strains and sprains, common injuries suffered by young athletes, and allows for improved muscle elasticity during play. A common misconception is to immediately stretch before beginning physical activity. However, stretching is most effective after the muscles have been adequately warmed-up.
4. Never underestimate the possibility of a concussion.
A common medical condition evaluated on the sideline is a concussion, which should never be taken lightly. Concussions occur when the functioning of the brain is interrupted due to a whiplash or direct impact to the head. While most concussions are self-limiting and non-life threatening, the risks of a second injury during a concussion can be very serious, and even fatal. One of the difficulties with concussions is that its symptoms are vague. Dizziness, headaches and nausea are common presenting symptoms. Parents and coaches should not focus on diagnosing concussions but rather whether they suspect a concussion. If you suspect a concussion, remove that child from play and have them assessed further. Some initial screening tests can include:
- Are you feeling nauseous/dizzy?
- Are you experiencing changes in vision?
- Do you have a headache or is your head hurting?
- Do you feel slowed down on the field?
Once you’ve asked questions regarding symptoms, ask questions dealing with current or recent events.
- Who did you play last week?
- What was the score last week?
- Where are we?
- What is the score of the game?
If the athlete has symptoms or any abnormalities remove him or her from play until he or she is evaluated by a health-care professional. In most cases, you do not need to take your child to the emergency room, but you should certainly keep an eye on him or her. If your child is acting normally, let him/her rest. However, you should immediately head to the emergency room or call 911 if there are significant changes in vision, facial drooping, repetitive vomiting, or decreasing responsiveness or alertness.
If you ever need a reminder on concussion protocol, there are several free apps available that provide quick access to concussion safety information. Check out the PAR Toolkit for helping diagnose/suspect a concussion and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s HEADS UP Concussion Safety app for how to appropriately fit the gear for your sport.
5. Know when to take your child to the doctor.
A question that most parents ask is, “How do I know if I should bring my child to the doctor or just take them home?” As a rule of thumb, parents should look for two symptoms — loss of motion and swelling. If your child’s limb is swollen, immovable or both, it’s time to make a trip to the doctor. Something as simple as a jammed finger can really be a broken bone.
6. Rehab, rehab, rehab.
At Raleigh Orthopaedic, we offer programs to our patients that strengthen musculoskeletal injuries through therapy, but we always encourage at-home treatment. The acronym RICE stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. RICE is an effective way to initially treat a sports-related injury, both on the sidelines and at home, although the order of implementation is often debated. I recommend that parents immobilize the injury immediately as well as ice and elevate it to avoid swelling while awaiting medical evaluation.
Once your young athlete slowly begins to heal, it will become time to figure out the best time for him or her to enter back into competition. Something to be aware of is just because an injury is still painful, it does not mean your child is not ready for play. Rehab is about regaining the motion and strength of an injured body part. If your young athlete has a minor sprain, but is running back and forth comfortably, he or she may be ready to get back to play.
7. Use your parental wisdom.
You know your children better than any doctor, coach or sideline health personnel. Trust your instincts to recognize if they are in significant pain or if the injury is something you can watch. Pay attention to your child’s mannerisms, and see how often he or she uses the injured limb during play. Reduced use often indicates a larger injury. If you believe the injury is significant, take your child off the field and have him or her checked out by a medical professional.
Dr. Chad Greer, M.D., is one of Raleigh Orthopaedic Clinic’s primary care sports medicine, non-operative and concussion management physicians. Dr. Greer was the first orthopaedic-based non-operative sports medicine physician in Raleigh, North Carolina. He specializes in both pediatric and adult non-surgical orthopaedics, including sports medicine for all ages, non-operative fracture care, arthritis, sports injuries, concussion management and most musculoskeletal injuries. For more information, visit raleighortho.com.