Athletic activity is excellent for kids. There are plenty of benefits for physical and mental health. However, kids can and do get injured playing sports. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons warns that young athletes are at greater risk of injury than adults because they’re still growing. Some of those injuries can lead to long-term health problems if not addressed. The good news is that there are proactive steps parents, coaches and young athletes can take to prevent injury and stay healthy. And if an injury occurs, working with a knowledgeable orthopaedics practice and physical therapy team can help your child heal and avoid reinjury.
What Factors Put Young Athletes At Risk for Injury?
According to AAOS, the factors that put young athletes at higher risk for injury include:
- Children’s bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments are still growing, making them more susceptible to injury.
- Young athletes of the same age can differ significantly in size and physical maturity–so kids on the same field may be of dramatically different sizes and skill levels.
- Children have growth plates: areas of cartilage at the ends of long bones where bone growth occurs. Growth plate injuries mean an extra level of risk for kids.
What Are Common Injuries In Young Athletes?
As with adults, there are two primary types of sports injuries in kids. Acute injuries like a sprain or fracture occur because of a specific incident. Overuse injuries arise from repetitive motion or stress on a muscle or bone. Some common injuries in children include:
- Knee injuries, including ACL tears
- Shoulder injuries including dislocation, strains, sprains, and tears
- Elbow injuries
- Hip injuries
- Strains, sprains, and fractures of the hand or wrist
- Foot and ankle injuries, including sprains and fractures
How Can I Prevent Youth Sports Injuries?
As parents, we’re enthusiastic cheerleaders for our kids. We love to see them doing what they love and want them to try new things. However, sometimes we may find ourselves pushing too hard and putting too much pressure on young kids to excel. If kids are pushing themselves to the limit, it can create an environment that’s ripe with the potential for injury.
Here are some tips from AAOS for avoiding injury in young athletes:
- Make sure your athlete is in good condition to play their sport and get a sports physical before starting. Many schools and club teams require a physical with good reason.
- Know and follow the rules of the sport, many of which are designed with safety in mind.
- Wear appropriate protective gear, including shin guards, helmets, and pads.
- Always warm up before playing.
- Stay hydrated.
- Don’t force a child to play if they are fatigued or in pain.
- Coaches, parents, and athletes should work to create an atmosphere of friendly competition. A “win at all costs” attitude can push athletes too hard and make injuries more likely.
- Limit the number of sports your child plays each season. Avoid playing just one sport year-round–especially in younger children. Variety can help prevent overuse injuries.
When Should My Child See An Orthopaedist?
If your child has an injury that doesn’t go away after three or four days, it’s best to see a doctor. In many cases, families start with their pediatrician, who refers to an orthopaedist as needed. However, depending on your insurance and your child’s history, it often makes sense to go straight to your orthopaedist for care. Your orthopaedist can take x-rays and make a diagnosis right away, starting the road to recovery. Your orthopaedist can:
- Perform surgery if needed.
- Prescribe protective equipment like casts, boots, braces and splints to immobilize while healing.
- Give you firm thresholds for return to play and replacement activities during recovery.
- Prescribe physical therapy to help your young athlete regain strength and mobility as they recover.
- Recommend strategies for staying healthy and avoiding reinjury when your child returns to play.
Countryside Orthopaedics has decades of experience helping athletes of all ages make a safe return to the sports they love. Our in-house physical and hand therapy teams provide support and accountability as young athletes progress toward a safe return to play. Our physicians, PAs, and therapists help young athletes regain strength and confidence, develop strategies to prevent re-injury in the future, and get back to the activities they love– stronger and safer.