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Preventing Children's Injuries From Sports and Other Activities
Being active is an important part of growing up healthy, in body and in mind. But active kids can get hurt, especially when they don't know their safety basics.
As a parent, you can't protect your child from every injury. But you can help your child keep safety in mind.
How can you help your child get ready for a sport or activity?
Schedule a sports physical to make sure that your child has no health problems. If your child has an illness or a problem with his or her lungs, heart, vision, hearing, strength, or movement, the doctor will tell you how your child can manage the problem and still be active.
If you think that your child needs strengthening or conditioning to avoid injury, ask your doctor for exercises or to recommend a physical therapist.
Learn about the common risks of your child's sport or activity. Then work with your child to prepare and protect against injuries. Competitive and contact sports may not be fun or safe for young children.
How can an active child avoid common injuries?
Most sport-related injuries are from impact, overuse, or poor body mechanics.
To reduce your active child's risk of injury, you can:
- Always use the right safety gear. Learn about the proper fit of that gear. Replace it as your child grows.
- Make sure that your child learns proper form and technique from a class, trained coach, or athletic trainer. If possible, help your child build skill and strength before the sports season starts.
- Teach your child to take pain and tiredness seriously and not ignore or "play through" it.
Avoid high-risk activities
Some activities are so high-risk that child health experts warn strongly against them. These include boxing, driving or riding on motorized bikes and vehicles, and using trampolines. Even with constant adult supervision and protective netting, many children are injured on them. It's best to keep your child off trampolines.
What safety gear does your child need?
Safety gear helps protect your child. Before your child starts a new activity, get the right safety gear and teach your child how to use it.
Just as important is the example you set for your child. Always use safety gear for your own activities, such as a helmet for bike riding.
Depending on the sport or activity, your child may need some of these items:
- Helmets help protect against injury to the skull. Brain damage is still possible even when a helmet is worn. Use a helmet for any activity that can cause a fall or an impact to the neck or head, such as bike riding, football, baseball, ATV riding, skateboarding, skiing, inline skating, or horseback riding.
- Shoes help protect feet from injury. Sandals or flip-flops are not safe for bike riding. Some sports require special shoes for support and safety.
- Mouth guards help prevent mouth and dental injuries. Use a mouth guard for sports such as basketball, football, wrestling, horseback riding, rugby, martial arts, gymnastics, baseball, ice or field hockey, soccer, and lacrosse.
- Eye protection can be prescription or nonprescription. You can use polycarbonate lenses, or try goggles or a face shield.
- Padding includes football and hockey pads, shin guards for soccer, and sliding shorts for baseball and softball. For boys, an athletic supporter and cup is often recommended.
- Braces include wrist guards for snowboarding and inline skating, ankle braces for volleyball, and knee-savers for baseball and softball catchers.
How can your child avoid injury from overuse and burnout?
Intense training in a single sport can cause overuse injuries and burnout.
Any repeat movement or impact can cause an overuse injury such as pain or soreness, inflammation, or even stress fracture of a bone. After an overuse injury has started, it can take weeks to heal. Children and teens are most at risk of overuse injury when their bones are still growing.
To help your child avoid overuse injuries:
- Make sure that your child is using the right technique and equipment.
- Teach your child to pay attention to pain and fatigue. Pain and tiredness are the body's way of saying "slow down, recover, and heal." Sore muscles are common after a new activity, but pain can be a sign of injury.
- Make sure that your child gets enough rest and nutrition.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting one sport to no more than 5 days a week, with at least 1 day off each week from any organized physical activity. Also, the AAP suggests that athletes have at least 2 to 3 months off each year from their particular sport.footnote 1 And if your child tries different sports, he or she will learn lifelong fitness skills and have fun trying new activities.
How can your child avoid dehydration and heat-related illness?
When your child is active and not drinking enough fluids, dehydration is a risk. The muscles get tired quickly, and your child may have leg cramps while walking or running.
Playing hard and sweating without drinking fluids can cause dehydration and overheating. To prevent dehydration, teach your child to:
- Do activities during the coolest parts of the day.
- Drink water throughout the day, every day.
- Drink extra water before, during, and after exercise.
- Take breaks and drink at least every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise.
- Stop and rest if he or she gets dizzy or lightheaded or feels very tired.
- Wear clothes that help cool the body.
Before, after, and during activity, water is the best choice for children and teens. A sports drink may be useful if your child has exercised intensively or for a long period of time.
- Brenner JS, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (2007, reaffirmed 2014). Overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout in child and adolescent athletes. American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Pediatrics, 119(6): 1242–1245.
Other Works Consulted
- Brenner JS, AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (2016). Sports specialization and intensive training in young athletes. Pediatrics, 138(3): e20162148. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2016-2148. Accessed August 31, 2016.
- Disease Control and Prevention (2011). Nonfatal traumatic brain injuries related to sports and recreation activities among persons less than or equal to 19 years—United States, 2001–2009. MMWR, 60(39): 1337–1376.
Current as of: May 12, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: May 12, 2021
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