It may come as a surprise to many parents, but sports-related injuries are the second leading cause of emergency room visits in children and adolescents across the country. Texas, which is home to more than 7 million youth and an ever-increasing population of young athletes, is no exception.
"We see an increasing number of children coming in to be treated for sports-related injuries," says Chris Redman, M.D., a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Children's Health℠ Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. "We see a wide range of sports injuries, but the most common things are what we consider overuse activities, or using the same joint or muscle over and over."
Sports specialization and overuse injuries
Children today are beginning to play sports at an increasingly younger age. Soccer leagues and youth football can start as young as 3 years old. And in today's competitive sports environment, many children are focusing on one sport and playing year-round with no rest – a term experts in the field call specialization.
This singular focus on one sport oftentimes leads youth athletes to overuse, meaning a young boy who plays baseball year-round or a young girl playing club soccer will continue to use the same joints and muscles over and over. This can lead to problems with growth of the bones and problems with the muscles, in addition to a host of other injuries, including sprains, strains, fractures, concussions and ACL tears. However, there are simple ways to prevent many of these common sports injuries.
Sports injury prevention
To prevent youth sports injuries, Dr. Redman recommends the following eight tips:
- Play more than one sport: Young athletes should change sports at least one season a year to reduce risk of overuse injuries.
- Cross train: Cross training is important for overall development. Athletes should try new activities that expose them to different skills or motions than their main sport.
- Take time off: Athletes should have at least two months a year off, where they are not playing or training for a specific sport. This allows the body time to recover, rest and recuperate.
- Focus on technique: Proper technique is an important consideration when preventing any sports-related injury, as well as taking in all factors contributing to fatigue.
- Get the right equipment: Wear the right shoes and make sure that any equipment fits properly. In addition, make sure all fields and courts are properly maintained.
- Stay hydrated: Dehydration contributes to muscle fatigue, which can increase risk for injury. See tips to stay hydrated.
- Fuel properly: Proper nutrition can help athletes recover from training, produce energy, and keeps the body's muscles and bones functioning optimally.
- Get enough zzz's: Getting enough sleep is essential for growth and allows the body to recover from the day's activities.
Sports injury treatment
If you think your child may have an injury, Dr. Redman offers the following advice to determine the injury and next steps:
- First, listen to your child. If they tell you they are in pain, take them seriously.
- If the child doesn't respond to RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) treatment, there may be something more serious happening and they should be evaluated.
- Look for limping or the child not using his or her extremities, such as their arm. If they are holding their arm to the side and not using it, it may be a fracture or another more serious injury.
- If there is any swelling or decreased motion of a joint, that is also an area of concern.
If you notice any of these symptoms, you should make an appointment with your pediatrician or a specialist for further evaluation.
Benefits of playing sports
Despite the risks of sports-related injuries, Dr. Redman reminds parents that there are also many benefits of athletics for children.
"Playing sports is very important. It's important for cognition and intellectual abilities and it encourages team building that helps with tasks later in life," he says. "It's important for student athletes to build up their bodies now and stay healthy while they are young because we know long term that plays a role in their overall health."
Understanding overuse injuries
Learn more about overuse injuries in this video with John Polousky, M.D., a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with the Children's Health℠ Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.
The only pediatric institute of its kind in Texas, the Children's Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine aims at reducing the number of children being sidelined from injury. Learn more about our programs and services.
Sign up for Performance Playbook
Receive the latest advice from our orthopedic and sports performance specialists – right in your inbox. Sign up for Performance Playbook, the monthly newsletter from Children's Health Andrews Institute.