While sports injuries are avoidable, they do happen – and though getting a kid to take a rest post-injury may be difficult, it’s necessary for proper healing, emphasizes Dr. Kunal Kalra, pediatric orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan.
“Some kids, they want to continue playing, they want to be in the game and they just don’t want to stop playing because they love what they do,” he says.
But oftentimes, in the wake of an injury, young athletes might try to compensate with other muscles or push through the pain, thus hurting themselves further. This can result in a reoccurring problem.
“It’s better to bench the child now and lose a few days rather than continuing with that kind of pain and having a more serious injury later,” – and possibly even more time out of the game, he says.
Dr. Kalra gives parents some go-to advice for keeping an eye on their active kid and knowing when to pull them from the game.
Injuries and recovery time
“I generally tell parents the ‘rule of twos,'” Kalra says. If your child’s pain is a level two or higher on the pain scale or lasts for two weeks or more, it’s time to bench your child.
Also, if parents notice any limping or favoring of a specific area or side of the body, that could be a signal there is some discomfort there, he says.
“Encourage the parent or coach to pull the child out despite the fact that the child might want to play,” Kalra says. Then, “gradually reintroduce that child to that sport.”
For recovery for minor injuries like tendonitis, muscle pains or tendon sprains, “rest the child for a couple of weeks and then the child can go back,” Kalra says.
This also includes minor growth plate stress injuries. “The good news is it’s a very treatable condition, but it’s important to recognize that in the child,” says Kalra, who advises following the recommendations of coaches, trainers and/or doctors.
Serious ligament tears, like that of the ACL in the knee, could take about 9 months to heal, he adds.
Something more major, like a bone fracture, requires more time to heal. “Every fracture is a little different,” Kalra says, depending on where it is and how severe it is, but on average recovery time is 6 weeks to 3 months. If it’s a simple fracture, it could be in a cast for 4 to 6 weeks, whereas a fracture requiring surgery might mean sitting out for 6 to 8 weeks.
If you suspect your child has suffered a concussion, they should be out of the game until they are back at “baseline” health, which could be anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks, he notes. For all injuries, follow doctor’s orders for when exactly to return to play.
In the meantime, Dr. Kalra says, “the child can be active but at the same time not straining that joint” or injured extremity. For example, if your child suffered an injury to the legs or lower body, swimming could be a good sport since it’s mostly the upper body at work, he says.
If pain persists for two weeks or more, or if parents notice any significant swelling, any changing color around the area (like bruising), see your family’s primary care physician, who will examine the issue and possibly refer your child to a specialist.
Most importantly, if your child is complaining of pain, he says, don’t brush it off.
To schedule your child’s visit with the sports medicine experts at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, visit the Children’s Hospital of Michigan website at childrensdmc.org or call 313-745-KIDS.