There are countless benefits to getting your grade-schooler involved in sports. Playing on a team can boost self-esteem, teach the value of teamwork, and teach kids how to be a gracious loser or winner. Being active in a sport can also help children become more physically fit, improve coordination, and teach them the importance of self-discipline.
But when your child plays sports, there is also some risk of sports-related injuries. Younger school-age children are particularly at risk for a sports injury. Kids between 5 and 14 years of age account for as much as 40 percent of all sports-related injuries. That’s because younger children tend to have slower reaction times and their coordination isn’t fully developed yet.
To keep kids healthy, parents can educate themselves about common sports injuries and ways to prevent them. To reduce your grade-schooler’s risk of getting hurt, check out this list of common kid sports injuries -- and tips on the best ways to keep kids safe so they can stay in the game.
1. Sprains, strains and bruisesThis is the most common type of sports injury in kids.
- Sprain. Involves the stretching or tearing of a ligament, a band of fibrous tissue that connects two or more bones at a joint. Ankle sprains are the most common type of sprain.
- Strain. Injury to the muscle or tendon, which is the tough, fibrous cord of tissue that serves to connect bone to muscle throughout the body.
2. Growth plate injuriesA growth plate is an area of still-developing tissues in children. Growth plates are located at the end of long bones, such as those of the hands, forearms, upper and lower legs, and feet. A fracture of the growth plate can be very serious, as it can prevent the bone from growing properly.
3. Overuse injuriesDoctors report that this is becoming more of a problem as children today are focusing on one sport, such as baseball or soccer, and playing it year-round. An overuse injury is typically painful, and can involve damage to the bone, muscle of tendon that’s been used repeatedly without having been given enough rest. Kids can experience pain after or during, or even when they aren’t playing the sport. Some common types of overuse injuries include:
- Little League elbow. Kids experience pain in the elbow from repeatedly throwing a ball
- shin splints. kids feel pain in the front part of the lower legs from running too much or training too hard.
- anterior knee pain. Soreness and swelling from inflammation of the tendon or cartilage under the kneecap. Usually caused by muscle tightness in the hamstrings or quadriceps.
- spondylolysis. Persistent lower back pain often caused by trauma or from repetitive flexing, twisting, or overextension of the back muscles. This type of injury is common in kids who play soccer or football or participate in gymnastics or diving.
Overuse injuries are especially problematic in children because kids’ bodies are still developing; any damage caused by an overuse injury can have an affect on bone growth and possibly lead to long-term chronic pain. If your child experiences an overuse injury, see a specialist.
4. Heat-related illnessesChildren can easily become dehydrated and suffer heat-related problems such as heat exhaustion (which can include nausea, dizziness and even fainting) or heat stroke (headache, confusion, and in extreme cases, even coma and death).
Tips for Sports Injury Prevention
- Gear up. Make sure your child is outfitted with the right protective gear (shin guards for soccer, helmets for baseball or softball or hockey, or eye protection for basketball or racquetball, etc.).
- Be mindful of head bumps. Approximately 300,000 cases of head injuries are reported each year in young athletes. A child with a concussion -- even if it's a mild one -- should be evaluated immediately by a doctor and stay out of the sport until completely she's recovered. This is particularly important because you want to avoid the risk of second impact syndrome (SIS), in which a second injury occurs to the brain before the first one is healed.
- Keep the playing field level. Ask your coach or sports organization to group your child in with other kids his size and level of development. Grade-schoolers can often vary in size and ability, and a child who is smaller and less skilled at a sport than other kids on the playing field faces a greater risk of injury.
- Be sure that safety rules are enforced. If the coaches or referee are not nipping unsafe behavior in the bud, you have every right to pull your child out of the game.
- Hydrate. When playing in hot weather, be sure children are given frequent and repeated breaks to drink water. It’s also a good idea to keep them cool by misting them with a water spray bottle.
- Build in days of rest. Many doctors recommend limiting sports activity to five or less days a week, with at least two days off for rest.
- Take a break from a sport. Even if your grade-schooler is a die-hard soccer player, try to encourage a break from it for at least a couple of months. He can still stay active -- in fact, doctors encourage kids to participate in different kinds of physical activity to reduce the risk of overuse injuries. When taking a break from his favorite sport, your child can still have fun running around in the park, throwing a Frisbee, or riding a bike.
Whatever sport your child is participating in, keep in mind that the main goal should be for her to have fun.