For many children, back to school means back to playing sports. As they are stepping back onto the playing fields, sports safety and injury prevention rank high in importance.
According to Dr. Jason Robertson, M.D, the urgent care clinic director at The Center for Sports Medicine and Orthopedics in Chattanooga, the most common injuries in child athletes are acute sprains of the ankle or foot. However, there is beginning to be a higher number of overuse injuries occurring with year-round sports. This can be caused by a number of things, including children not stretching before playing, not properly resting in between or during the season or any repetitive motion that strains the child’s body.
Repetitive motions can put added stress on joints, muscles, or ligaments with sudden movement or rigorous activity increasing the chance of injury. Kelli H. Smith, head softball coach for the varsity and middle school teams at Baylor, sees overuse injuries in her players every season, especially in shoulders, arms, knees, and ankles.
“I tell my players in order to take care of their body during the season to ice their muscles, whether they are injured or not,” says Coach Smith. “Kids are playing 80-100 games a season—more games than practices.” She is seeing an increase in overuse injuries. Smith thinks more practice time and fewer games would allow for better physical conditioning.
Dr. Robertson says parents can help minimize the risk of overuse injury by getting their kids involved with cross training. That way, players use different motions and movements and become more flexible. Proper rest, throughout the season, and time off a few months of the year is also important for parents to insure. Coach Smith advises her players just to be kids during their off season.
To prevent foot, ankle and overuse injuries, it is important that any specific gear—footwear or equipment—is well fitted to the child to protect against injury while playing. Both Dr. Robertson and Coach Smith say players should wear appropriate and properly fitted protective pads, helmets, mouthpieces, face guards, athletic cups and/or eyewear. According to Coach Smith a key component, if a player is injured during the season, is to allow the body to recover completely and to protect the injured part of the body with additional padding, braces or remedial equipment.
A crucial problem with child athletes, according to Dr. Robertson, is that they sometimes think they are invincible and are playing through pain not knowing when to sit out of a game.
“It is important for parents and coaches to always remember that children’s bodies are different than adults,” says Dr. Robertson. “Due to children’s bones being softer than adults, a minor twisted ankle for an adult could be a fracture for a child. Their growth plates are still open and still developing. If they are noticeably limping or have consistent pain after an injury, then they need to seek treatment.”
Dr. Robertson and Coach Smith encourage parents to motivate their children not to play through pain and to listen to their bodies. By not allowing the body to heal, they increase the risk of injury or even surgery. Children need to know that it is okay to tell coaches, parents and other players that they’ve been hurt and that it is time to sit out.