Tips to prevent serious, common injuries in child athletes

I ran cross-country and hurdles in track as my two major sports growing up. In my off seasons, I dabbled in competitive ice-skating, basketball and softball.

I got injured. A lot. Did I mention track rash is the worst?

Some injuries were preventable; others, not so much.

Children sports medicine experts urge parents to play a role in preventing injuries.

For example, if your student athlete can avoid training on concrete, he or she is less likely to suffer shin splints.

2.6 million trips a year to the ER

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures, roughly 2.6 million children end up in an emergency room every year from sports-related injuries.

The actual number of injuries is higher, since many children are treated at home.

The injuries are divided in terms of “traumatic” or “non-traumatic.”  Non-traumatic includes overused injuries developed over time, but are no less problematic than traumatic injuries.

The 3 R’s: rest, rest and rest

Rochester Regional Health’s Sports Medicine medical director said overuse injuries account for about half of all sports-related injuries in middle and high school children.

“Some injuries are just a part of playing sports,” Dr. Christopher Brown said, “but there are a good number of things we can prevent.”

Although it’s devastating for student athletes when they get injured, the best remedy is rest, sports medicine experts agree.

Most common sports injuries

If your student athlete gets a bad knee injury, you’ll soon learn ALC stands for anterior cruciate ligament.

“An ACL tear is something that usually requires surgery to repair and typically requires a year-long recovery,” said Dr. Gregg Nicandri, University of Rochester Sports Medicine professor and orthopedic surgeon.

The six most common sports injuries he said can be partially prevented are:

  • Concussion.
  • Shoulder dislocations.
  • Knee sprains.
  • Ankle sprains.
  • Muscle strains.
  • Shin splints.

“The biggest trend I see currently is an epidemic of ACL injuries.” — Dr. Gregg Nicandri

Specific sport-injury awareness and safety training could help cut injury numbers in half, Brown said.

So what’s the problem?

The problem, Brown said, is players become frustrated when they cannot jump right back into a sport after an injury.

“Return-to-play” protocols are more rigorous today than even 10 years ago, he noted.

The start of senior-year track season, I shattered my knee during a meet when I came down on a hurdle. I was told I may never return to competitive sports.

I did, anyway. By the end of the season, I was heading to nationals, busted up and all. I’m paying for that now with pins in my knee.

Had that happened today, Brown said, no school would have taken the liability chance. Although children may “feel” well enough to return, some injuries take a year or more to properly heal, he added.

5 key injury-prevention tips

The CDC urges parents to make sure kids:

  1. Use the appropriate sport protective gear, such as shin guards, helmets and elbow pads.
  2. Check sports equipment before every use for unsuitable wear-and-tear and for proper fittings.
  3. Have an action plan. Make sure program directors get your kids educated about their sport, possible injuries and prevention methods.
  4. Pay attention to temperature. Hydration is key and children need to acclimate to hotter temperatures when training and competing.
  5. Be a good role model. Communicate positive safety messages and model safety behaviors.

Sports education starts at home with parents, when children are first starting out in places like Pop Warner, Brown said.

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