Preventing Sports-Related Injuries
by Alison Rhodes
For the past two years, my son has been involved in team sports through his school. Since then, I've stood on the sidelines at soccer matches, lacrosse practice, Little League playoffs, and flag football games. It wasn't until he started playing football that I started to get nervous about injuries, so I decided to speak with my pediatrician and the SAFE KIDS campaign to understand more about sports-related injuries.
Surprisingly, the number of visits to the emergency room for basketball-related injuries far surpasses those for football-related injuries. And while the highest rate of injury occurs in sports that involve contact and collisions, more severe injuries occur in individual sports and recreational activities such as bicycle riding. This is due in part to the limited amount of protective gear required in individual sports. While children should be wearing bicycle helmets when they are riding their bicycles, it is not mandatory as the protective gear is when out on the football or lacrosse field. Most of the injuries are occurring during practice, not the game (an estimated 62 percent.) Again, this is due in part to the fact that they are not wearing all of the protective gear during the entire practice. Sports-related injury severity also increases with age, but before puberty girls suffer more injuries than boys, and during puberty boys' injuries are more severe.
The rate of injuries for all sports has been increasing over the years in part due to the growing participation in competitive sports and in part due to the tendency to specialize in one sport, which leads to continuously exercising only a certain group of muscles. Especially in younger children, it is important to balance one season's sporting activity with something else during the "off-season." Ironically, the advances in sports medicine can also be leading to more injuries, as children are now able to return to the sport in which they were initially injured, thereby risking re-injury.
A great deal of research also points to the role coaches and even parents play in this by fostering an overly competitive atmosphere. We've all read the tragic stories about parents becoming physically violent with coaches and other parents over a child's performance or their amount of time on the field. And I'm sure every parent who has a child participating in a sporting event has witnessed another parent berating a child for a poor play. This has led to our children becoming overly competitive and taking risks physically that might be beyond their abilities.
As a parent, it's important that you get to know your child's coach and understand his or her philosophy on coaching - will they stress the importance of cooperation, supporting their teammates, and having fun versus winning at all costs? Is there someone you know whose child has been on this coach's team before that you can check with regarding his behavior? Becoming involved in your children's sports activities at an early age and encouraging them to do their best and place winning as secondary will not only help prevent them from taking undue risks but also foster healthy self-esteem.
To help reduce the risk of sports-related injuries, make sure your child:
- Is drinking enough fluids during practices and games.
- Is wearing sunscreen at all times.
- Wears all of the protective gear required.
- Does not play while injured - check with your pediatrician when it is acceptable to resume play.