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How to Help Kids Avoid Sports Injuries

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By Dr. Jamie A. Freishtat

We are a sports family. Every weekend my boys, ages 10 and 8, are involved in at least one sports related activity. So, my husband and I spend a good portion of our Saturdays and Sundays driving to games, lacing up cleats, filling up water bottles and providing encouragement regardless of the outcome of the day. As exhausting as it may be, I enjoy every minute!

However, far too often, we (my husband is also a pediatrician) end up taking care of a child with a sports-related injury. Busy weekend schedules are inevitable, but injuries don't have to be. Of the more than 3.5 million children age 14 and under that receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year, experts say as many as half are likely preventable. We, as parents, can do a lot to reduce our children's risk of injury.

So how can kids can spend more time on the field and less time in the doctor's office? Here are a few things parents should know about:

Overuse Injuries: This type of injury occurs when there is repeated stress on a part of the musculoskeletal system (i.e., muscles, bones, tendons). Improper training such as incorrect technique, doing too much, or not using correct equipment, can lead to overuse injuries. Some examples include: tennis elbow, Little League elbow, and shin splints. Kids are particularly at risk for overuse. As parents, we need to be sure our kids take the recommended time off to rest, play no more than the developmentally and age appropriate amount, are taught proper techniques, wear the right equipment, and train correctly at all times. We must teach our kids to let us know right away if they are having any discomfort and that it's never okay to play through the pain. If there is ever any pain, have it evaluated right away by the doctor.

Concussion: A concussion is a bump, blow, or jolt to the head (or body) that can change the way the brain normally works. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics article "Sports -Related Concussion in Children and Adolescents," signs and symptoms of a concussion may include:

Feeling mentally "foggy"
Feeling slowed down
Sleeping more than usual
Difficulty concentrating
More emotional
Sleeping less than usual
Balance problems
Difficulty remembering
Difficulty falling asleep
Visual problems
Forgetful of recent information
Confused about recent events
Sensitivity to light
Answers questions slowly
Sensitivity to noise
Repeats questions

It's the parent's and coach's job to be sure kids wear properly fitted, well-maintained protective equipment and that the rules of the games are followed. Parents and coaches also should know that concussions can happen, and if they recognize any signs or symptoms, they must get the child to a doctor immediately.

It's the medical professional's job to manage a concussion, and to determine when it's okay for the child to start playing after a concussion. Never allow a child to return to play without the "go ahead" from the doctor. This could lead to even greater injury or even death.

Dehydration: Drinking before, during and after play is a must to prevent dehydration! Don't wait for your child to tell you he is thirsty to start offering fluids. By then he/she is already dehydrated and you're playing "catch up". We need to send our kids out to play with plenty of fluids and provide constant reminders to drink up. In general, an 85-pound child should drink about five ounces every 20 minutes, and a 130-pound child should drink about nine ounces every 20 minutes, during the activity.

Also, remember to bring your kids to their doctor for a pre-participation physical exam each year. This is recommended for all children to keep them healthy and safe.

Hopefully, by learning more about youth sports related injuries, we can all make a difference in keeping our children safe. I want my kids (and all kids) to develop a lifelong passion for being active--and safe!

For more information on preventing sports injuries visit

Jamie A. Freishtat MD, FAAP, is a board certified pediatrician and a safety advocate and blogger for Safe Kids USA, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing unintentional childhood injury. Its new initiative on preventing youth sports injury is being supported by its founding sponsor, Johnson & Johnson. Dr. Freishtat lives in the Washington D.C. area with her husband, Rob, two sons, Nate, age 10, and Max, age 8, and their family dog, Brownie.

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