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How to Spot Signs of Sports Injuries in Children

What you need to know to protect your child from injury on and off the field

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sports injuries in children

Parents and coaches should be aware of how to prevent, spot, and treat sports injuries in children.

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While there are numerous and unquestionable benefits to playing sports and staying active for kids, parents should also be mindful of the fact that sports injuries in children pose risks for kids. Parents, coaches, trainers, and other adults who supervise children who play sports should educate themselves about the dangers of sports injuries, how to prevent them, and how to protect kids when an injury happens.

WHAT TO DO BEFORE YOUR CHILD PLAYS

  • Before your child begins a sport or starts a new season, take her to the pediatrician for a sports physical. Make sure she is evaluated for previous injuries, and get an all-clear before she starts playing.

  • Talk to your child’s coach before the season starts about what the protocol is when a child gets hurt. Who will evaluate the injury? How much experience has the coach had in dealing with head injuries?

  • Ask whether or not there is an athletic trainer on the team. If not, ask if they can get one. An athletic trainer can be an invaluable person to have around because they are trained and certified healthcare professionals who know how to prevent, evaluate, and treat sports injuries. They know what to do when a child is injured and are trained to know when an emergency room visit is required. “They are also removed from the action, which means they don’t work with the coach,” says Dr. LaBella. “So a child who may be hesitant about telling a coach about an injury may be more comfortable being honest about discussing pain or discomfort or that can impair his ability to play.”

  • If a child is playing a sport that requires equipment, have the gear evaluated by the coach or equipment manager, says Dr. LaBella. Make sure your child’s shoes are fitting well and not worn since footwear that is the wrong size or worn out is one of the major causes of sports injuries, says Dr. LaBella.

  • Educate yourself about tips to prevent sports injuries in kids such as building in days of rest in a playing schedule and taking breaks from a sport to prevent overuse injuries.

SYMPTOMS TO WATCH FOR

Here are some important signs of sports injuries to look out for, both on and off the field:

  • Pain, limping, swelling
    If a child complains of pain and has limping, swelling (especially in the joints), or is favoring an arm and the pain does not go away in a day or two, he should be examined by a doctor. “We are all used to having soreness in muscles after working out, but the pain should go away,” says Cynthia LaBella, MD, medical director for the Institute for Sports Medicine at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago and associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

  • Subtle changes
    Parents and coaches should also keep in mind that the signs of injury in kids may be subtle. For instance, a child who dances may not leap as high she normally does or favor an arm or a leg to compensate for an injury, says Dr. LaBella. A child on a soccer or baseball field may not run as fast as she normally does.

  • Pain in spine, neck after collision, fall
    If a child experiences a collision with another player or falls in any other way and is conscious, immediately ask him if he feels any pain anywhere. If there is any kind of pain in the neck or spine, or if there is any tingling in the arms or legs, do not let the child move and call for medical help.

  • A-B-C
    Ever see those coaches and medical personnel surround professional athletes who are injured during a game? Among other signs of injury, they are looking for what’s called A-B-C: checking the airway, making sure the athlete is breathing, and has a pulse (circulation). (In 2010, however, CPR Guidelines were changed to C-A-B so that rescuers would be reminded to perform chest compressions first in the event that there is no pulse to get blood flowing again before addressing breathing and the airway.)

HEAD INJURIES

Head injuries are particularly important for parents to monitor because they can be serious and even life-threatening. It’s particularly important for coaches and parents to be vigilant about any possible head injury because children -- particularly younger kids -- may feel a headache or other head injury symptoms but may not necessarily express what they are feeling.

All head injuries should be evaluated by a physician who has experience managing head injuries. If you take your child to your pediatrician, ask her if she has treated a lot of head injuries or if she recommends that you see a specialist, advises Dr. LaBella.

Coaches must alert parents if there is even a slight possibility of a head injury. “It may be nothing, but sometimes these things might be much more serious,” says Dr. LaBella. Also be aware that while symptoms can be apparent soon after a head injury, in some cases, symptoms may be become noticeable until a few days later, says Dr. LaBella. So for instance, a child may be injured during a game on a Saturday but not experience symptoms until Monday.

    Symptoms of Head Injuries:
    Once there is any possibility of a head injury -- that is, when a child’s head has made contact with an object or a person, even if it seems like a minor bump -- adults should be watchful for the following symptoms and ask the child if he is experiencing any of these signs of head injury:
  • Dizziness
  • Fogginess
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble remembering
  • Nausea (such as car sickness)
  • Trouble reading (difficulty adjusting from looking far away to focusing on text in front of them)
  • Trouble falling and staying asleep
    When to go to the ER:
  • Worsening headache
  • Prolonged loss of consciousness
  • Persistent confusion (that doesn’t go away after a few minutes)
  • Vomiting
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