Leading an active lifestyle has numerous health benefits for kids, and sports are a great way for them to get that exercise. Plus, partaking in sports is just plain fun, with the camaraderie of the team, the energy from the crowd, and the joy of playing the game.
But there’s no denying kids can play hard. An intense game can lead to some serious sports-related injuries. The good news is, many of these injuries are preventable with the right equipment, knowledge and even nutrition, explains Dr. Kunal Kalra, pediatric orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan.
Sprains, strains, cuts, bruises and broken bones – they can all come along with the game. “There are different kinds of sports injuries,” Kalra explains. They can range from orthopedic – concerning the bones, joints, ligaments or muscles – or they could be head, face and eye injuries. Sports can lead to musculoskeletal injuries, like bone fractures – in kids it’s often with the growth plate – and torn ligaments. Or, it may be something serious like a head injury leading to concussion, many times caused by an impact seen in contact sports. If ignored, a concussion can lead to serious brain damage and complications.
Injuries can be more common in certain sports, too – usually those in which more physical contact is involved. In football, for instance, “we see a lot of fractures, (and) ligament injuries in the knee and shoulders,” Kalra says. Even in basketball, for instance, which requires jumping, he notes knee injuries – especially regarding the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in girls – are a concern.
Preventing future injury
Parents worried about their sporty kids hurting themselves can take precautions – and pass these tips onto their children.
The first very important piece of advice: “It all starts with making sure the child is well hydrated,” Kalra says – and that means before, during and after the game. Nutrition can benefit athletes’ physical health in a big way too. Ensuring kids have adequate amounts of protein and carbohydrates will help them build muscle, leading to good coordination thus preventing many musculoskeletal issues, he notes.
Also, children should have proper safety gear and equipment for their sport, whether it is a helmet to prevent head injuries, a shield for the face or protective padding for other areas.
Preparing for an activity is incredibly important as well. Kalra encourages kids to do warm-ups, meaning some aerobic exercise to increase heart rate, and also stretch tendons and ligaments prior to play.
Luckily, parents have some help. “A lot of coaches are very well aware and trained,” he says, and they understand the importance of hydration, nutrition and conditioning.
Mom and dad can do a few things to care for a child’s sports injury should one occur. Use ice packs following a muscle strain or ligament strain to bring inflammation down, and administer Motrin as well. But, “If there is significant swelling, (and they) cannot put weight on it, then that’s something more serious,” he says. If the pain is not relieved in two to four weeks after careful observation and icing, get to a specialist. Knee joint swelling is especially a concern and should be treated if it doesn’t go down within a week. If it’s a concussion or a noticeable deformity, seek medical attention immediately.
“What is important to realize are the ramifications,” Kalra says of sport-related injuries. “As much as they love their game, they may not be able to play it in the future if they do not take those appropriate steps.”
It’s important to win, he adds, but it’s also important to ensure young athletes can enjoy sports in the long run and maintain overall good health – and that begins with proper preparation and knowledge.