How to prevent common childhood sports injuries

Apr 8, 2013 at 12:00 p.m. ET

April is National Sports Safety Month — a time for parents and kids to become more aware of the risks associated with playing sports. Sports and recreational activities account for 21 percent of traumatic brain injuries in children.

Youth football

In addition, 3.5 million children visit the emergency room with sports-related injuries annually. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, over half of all sports injuries in children are preventable.

When we think of sports-related injuries, we typically think of team contact sports such as football or hockey. Yet every sport, both recreational and competitive, carries the potential for injury. From golf to swimming, cheerleading to biking, snowboarding to running, baseball to tennis, children and teens who are involved in sporting activities are at risk for both acute and chronic injuries. Even recreational activities such as roller skating or bouncing on the backyard trampoline can result in injury without proper safety measures.

Common sport-related injuries

Concussion - Concussions, a type of traumatic brain injury, are arguably one of the most dangerous sports-related injuries. The concussion rate among elementary and middle schoolers has been on the rise. Forty percent of concussions occur in children between the ages of 8 and 13. Interestingly, concussion risk is higher for girls. Approximately half of all head injuries in children under age 14 occur in bicycle accidents.

Acute injury - These injuries often result through collision in contact sports and can involve anything from a broken bone to a sprained ankle.

Overuse injury - These injuries occur when the same muscle group performs the same movement patterns day after day without much break. This puts a great strain on muscles, ligaments and tendons possibly resulting in strain, inflammation or stress fractures.

Dehydration and heat illness - Dehydration may lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, the most serious forms of heat illness. Children are more susceptible since they have more body surface area per pound of weight than adults.

Preventing sports injuries in children and adolescents

The right equipment
  • Use properly fitted sports equipment in both practice and games. This not only includes mouth guards, pads and helmets but also includes things like wearing the proper shoes, using a bicycle customized to the right height and the right tennis racket or golf club. Since over 60 percent of injuries occur during practice, proper equipment should be used at all times.
  • Wear a safety helmet while cycling, roller skating or skateboarding. Head injury is the leading cause of death from cycling accidents and 85 percent of these deaths would have been prevented with a helmet.
  • Take your child to see the pediatrician prior to participation in any sport.
  • Properly stretch, warm up and cool down.
  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Enforce rules of safe play.
  • Hydrate one hour before exercise with 16 ounces of fluid then four to eight ounces every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise.
  • To avoid overuse injuries focus on proper technique, strength training, and cross training.
  • Take 10 weeks off of all sports annually.
  • Parents and coaches should be familiar with the signs and symptoms of a concussion and utilize a tool such as the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool to assess any suspected head injury.
  • All head injuries should be evaluated by a medical professional, no matter how mild, and given ample time for recovery.
  • Allow sufficient rehabilitation following any injury before returning to a sport.

More about youth sports

Youth sports: Good for their muscles and their brain
The fall of youth sports
Preventing sports-related injuries in kids