Keep your kids safe on the sports field

Jan 26, 2010 at 1:20 p.m. ET

With 30 million kids involved in organized sports in America, nothing says "childhood" like playtime. Unfortunately, nothing carries the same potential for bumps and bruises, either. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that approximately 3 million children and adolescents ages 14 and under get hurt annually playing sports or participating in recreational activities. So how can you keep your kids safe?

Little boy in football helmet

Getting the right gear

Before you start pulling out the protective bubbles, understand that your kids can have the best of both worlds: Game time without the pain time. All it takes, says internist Dr. David Schwalb of Liberty Medical Group in Liberty, New York, is a little preparation -- namely, outfitting your kids with the proper gear before they hit the field or the court.


"Try to tell kids not to ride their bikes or ride their skateboards, and it's not going to work for anyone. It's not going to happen," Schwalb says. "But tell them they can do it if they wear their helmets and/or their pads, and you've got a compromise that works."


It's up to parents to ensure their kids are putting on the right equipment, but a survey conducted by the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) found that 67 percent of parents said their child does not wear a mouth guard during sports. Another study by Safe Kids USA found only 41 percent of kids ages 5 to 15 wore helmets. And yet another, this one by Prevent Blindness of America, found that most sports-related eye injuries occur in kids ages 5 to 14; yet, 90 percent of those injuries could have been prevented if the child had donned protective eyewear.


"These are injuries that are easily preventable," Schwalb says. "There's no reason not to take the proper precautions."


With estimates that one in four sports-related injuries suffered by kids is deemed "serious" by healthcare professionals, the AAO recommends wearing the following protective gear during play:


Mouth guard

Kids are 60 times more likely to suffer damage to the mouth when not wearing a protective mouth guard, which can prevent jaw, mouth and teeth injuries. Besides protecting children from the need for costly orthodontics, a guard will also protect kids with orthodontia, who are at even greater risk of orthofacial injuries than their peers. Wear a mouth guard during the following sports to stay safe: Football, basketball, hockey, boxing, field hockey, lacrosse, rugby, wrestling, softball, volleyball, in-line skating, martial arts, skateboarding and skiing.


Numerous studies have proven that helmets save lives. It's state law in many places for kids to wear helmets while bike riding, but protective head gear should be worn for kids who are biking, skateboarding, skiing, in-line skating, hockey and snowboarding, too.

Protective eyewear

Although eye protectors cannot eliminate the risk of injury, the CDC notes that this gear can lower the risk of significant eye injury by at least 90 percent when fitted properly. Particularly useful in sports involving flying objects or flying elbows, such as soccer, baseball or hockey, eye protection is a vital part of the arsenal for children who wear glasses.

Face shield

Often incorporated into a helmet (as in hockey or football), these can protect the face from simple bruising and scratching, as well as from more serious injuries to the mouth, eyes and nose.