Children benefit in various ways from their involvement in youth sports. Being part of a team fosters feelings of belonging, inspires collaborative play and strategy and can be an excellent form of exercise. Still, despite the benefits, parents often worry about the injury risk their children face on the playing fields.
Those fears are justified. A Safe Kids Worldwide survey of emergency room visits found that a young athlete visits a hospital emergency room for a sports-related injury more than a million times a year, or about every 25 seconds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 2.6 million children 0 to 19 years old are treated in the emergency department each year for sports- and recreation-related injuries.
Some of the more common injuries young children face have to do with the skeletal and muscular systems of the body. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons stresses that children’s bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments are still growing, making them more susceptible to injury. Fortunately, with some education, many youth-sport injuries can be prevented.
Sprains and strains
Sprains are injuries to ligaments, or the bands of tough, fibrous tissue that connect two or more bones at a joint. Strains impact a muscle or a tendon, which connects muscles to bones. Clinical research has linked acute strains and sprains to improper warm-up before sports, fatigue and previous injuries. Preparticipation conditioning and stretching can help reduce the risk of injury.
Periostitis is commonly known as “shin splints.” This is an overuse injury that occurs in athletes who are engaged in activities that involve rapid deceleration. Periostitis causes inflammation of the band of tissue that surrounds bones known as the periosteum, and typically affects people who repetitively jump, run or lift heavy weights.
To head off potential pain in the shins, young athletes can gradually build up their tolerance for physical activity. Supportive shoes or orthotic inserts may also help. Incorporating cross-training into a regimen also can work.
Repetitive use activities
Swimmers, tennis players, pitchers, and quarterbacks may experience something called a repetitive use injury. This is pain in an area of the body that is used over and over again. Inflammation of muscles and tendons may appear, but repetitive use injuries also may result in stress fractures, which the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases defines as hairline fractures in bones that are subjected to repeated stress.
Rest between exercises can help alleviate these types of injuries. Ice, compression, elevation and immobilization may be used if pain is persistent.
Growth plate injuries
Kids Health says growth plates are the areas of growing tissue near the ends of the long bones in the legs and arms in children and adolescents. A growth plate produces new bone tissue. If the growth plate is injured, it cannot do its job properly. That may contribute to deformed bones, shorter limbs or arthritis. Growth plate injuries most often result from falling or twisting.
While there’s no surefire way to prevent growth plate injuries, getting proper and immediate care after an injury can help prevent future problems. An orthopedic surgeon has the expertise to diagnose and treat these injuries.
Youth sports injuries are common but preventable. Warming up, being in good physical shape and not overtaxing a growing body can help kids avoid pain and impairment.