How to keep kids in the game
By Steven Hoffman
There are more opportunities than ever before for youngsters to participate in organized sports, with nearly 30 million children and adolescents now playing in youth leagues across the country. But along with the increased participation comes greater risk for injuries. High school athletes now account for an estimated 2 million injuries each year. Those injuries will result in 500,000 visits to doctors and 30,000 hospitalizations. An additional 3.5 million kids under the age of 14 will receive medical treatment for sports injuries.
According to Ray Carter, M.D., a family doctor with the Christiana Care Concord Health Center, there are a variety of ways to keep a child safe and healthy as he or she plays a variety of sports.
Dr. Carter and his colleague, Dr. Kelly Billig-Figura, M.D., took part in a free lecture on April 23 titled “Keep Them in the Game” that focused on injury prevention, fitness planning, and treatment for common injuries that kids and teens suffer while playing organized sports.
“We’re focusing on keeping children healthy,” explained Dr. Billig-Figura.
While some sports like football or wrestling are commonly thought of as having a higher risk for injuries, each sport has its own particular risks for injury and activities like cheerleading can pose just as serious risks as those sports. Girls are just as likely to be at risk for injuries as boys, so all parents should become informed about their child’s chosen sport or activity.
Dr. Carter said that it’s very good for adolescents and teens to be active and to play sports, but it’s important for them to avoid injuries as they do.
More young athletes are playing sports year-round and standout athletes in a particular sport often focus exclusively on one sport. This can increase the risk of an overuse injury because of the repetition of movements. According to statistics, nearly half of all sports injuries to middle school and high school students are classified as overuse injuries and many of these can be avoided with a proper training strategy.
“We see a lot more overuse injuries,” Dr. Carter explained. “But if you handle them early on, you can get the kids back out on the field safely and quickly.”
Dr. Billig-Figura said that if a youngster is going to focus on one sport, an effort should be made to do specific exercises that strengthen some of the other muscles that aren’t being used by that sport.
While she wouldn’t discourage a standout athlete from focusing on one sport if it’s his or her choice to do so, Billig-Figura said that it’s important to follow guidelines for healthy participation practices. For example, a softball pitcher or a baseball pitcher should adhere to the pitch-count limits that are recommended.
If a young athlete opts to play different sports, there are benefits and one of them is that it reduces the risk of overuse injuries.
“Playing a variety of sports leads to different muscle groups being used,” Dr. Billig-Figura explained.
Dr. Carter said that the risks for injuries are receiving more attention now than they did a generation ago. Back then, youngsters who suffered from nagging injuries were more likely to ignore them, and parents and coaches were generally less aware about the risks associated with the injuries.
The short-term and long-term impact of head injuries, in particular, has received a great deal of attention over the last few years, as health officials have learned more about the consequences of concussions.
“There’s a lot more awareness now,” Dr. Carter explained. “There was a time when ‘getting your bell rung’ was considered to be just a part of the game.”
Dr. Billig-Figura said that she often talks to young athletes and parents about the warning signs for a concussion. Today, there is a lot more good information available about the risks of injuries for young athletes, and physicians can be a valuable resource for parents and young athletes.
Dr. Carter said that when parents accompany their children to a primary care physician’s office for a pre-participation physical, it helps keeps everyone informed about the young athlete’s condition. A close working relationship between a physician and a family is a good way to prevent issues from arising.
“An ounce of prevention,” said Dr. Carter, “is worth a pound of cure.”
There are many places where parents or a young athlete can turn for information about how to prevent sports injuries from occurring.
“There are resources that are out there for each individual sport,” Dr. Billig-Figura explained.
One website with a lot of good information about topics related to youth athletics is www.safekids.org. Another is www.stopsportsinjuries.org. A website with a broader range of topics to keep children safe and healthy is www.healthychildren.org.
An open dialogue between youngsters, their parents, and family doctors can also go a long way toward developing a healthy lifestyle.
“Parents should also set aside time to talk to their physicians,” Dr. Billig-Figura explained “Every child is different and has different needs when it comes to playing sports.”
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email email@example.com.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following tips to keep children injury-free when they are playing youth sports:
Gear up. When children are active in sports and recreation, make sure they use the right protective gear for their activity, such as helmets, wrist guards, knee or elbow pads.
Use the right stuff. Be sure that sports protective equipment is in good condition and worn correctly all the time—for example, avoid missing or broken buckles or compressed or worn padding. Poorly fitting equipment may be uncomfortable and may not offer the best protection.
Practice makes perfect. Have children learn and practice skills they need in their activity. For example, knowing how to tackle safely is important in preventing injuries in football and soccer. Have children practice proper form – this can prevent injuries during baseball, softball, and many other activities. Also, be sure to safely and slowly increase activities to improve physical fitness; being in good condition can protect kids from injury.
Pay attention to temperature. Allow time for child athletes to gradually adjust to hot or humid environments to prevent heat-related injuries or illness. Parents and coaches should pay close attention to make sure that players are hydrated and appropriately dressed.
Be a good model. Communicate positive safety messages and serve as a model of safe behavior, including wearing a helmet and following the rules.