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Children’s Sports Injuries: What Parents Should Know

May 13, 2024

Adults and children suffer the same injuries while playing sports, but that doesn’t mean they are always treated the same way.

The good news is that children tend to recover from sports injuries faster. What might be a catastrophic injury for an adult is often far less so for a child. And they seldom need surgery to fix things that are broken.

However, they also have disadvantages. In particular, damage to growth plates – areas of cartilage often found near the ends of long bones – can potentially affect long-term development. When one of these plates is damaged, they often need immediate care.

Symptoms of growth plate injuries include:

  • Pain or tenderness at the growth plate
  • Inability to put pressure or weight on the limb
  • Swelling at the end of the bone, near a joint
  • Difficulty or changes in bending a limb

There are many ways your children can be injured in sports. Let’s look at four categories:

Acute Injuries: This includes a wide range of strains and sprains, including strained hamstrings and sprained wrists and ankles. Acute injuries can be caused by your child falling down or through a collision with another kid. Recovery tends to be pretty rapid, requiring a few weeks of recovery and rehab before returning to play.

Overuse Injuries: Overuse injuries are the result of repetitive motions putting too much stress or strain on muscles, bones and ligaments. These can vary widely, based on the sport your child plays. Elbow and shoulder injuries are common among baseball players, while wrist issues are more common among gymnasts. Overuses injures are more concerning when they involve growth plates. One way to reduce the risk for these types of injuries is to get your kids involved in more than one sport. Kids who specialize in one sport (baseball, for example) are more vulnerable, particularly when they are heavily involved, playing multiple days a week and on multiple teams.

Fractures: Fractures can be classified as acute or stress (overuse) injuries. The most obvious acute examples would be a broken wrist, arm or leg. These occur in the same way that other acute injuries do, but with enough force to break a bone. Stress fractures are overuse injuries resulting from repetitive force causing tiny cracks in a bone. They are more common among gymnasts, dancers, figure skaters and runners. Treatment for fractures can vary, with acute injuries healing faster, while stress fractures often take more time before the athlete can return to action.

Concussions: Concussions in football have gotten considerable attention in recent years. But they can happen during a wide range of athletic endeavors, including soccer, ice hockey and cheerleading. Quickly identifying concussions is critical for the health of your child. Returning to the playing field immediately after experiencing a concussion increases the risk for another concussion or head injury. Once a concussion has been diagnosed, there is a process that should be followed before your child returns to school and sports.

Youth Sports Worth the Risk?

Yes, there’s a chance your child could be hurt while playing soccer, football, basketball or any other sport. But the benefits of being involved in sports far outweigh the risks.

Sports gives your kids a chance to have fun, expend energy and learn sportsmanship. They learn how to listen to coaches, how to be part of a team, work together with other kids, and follow rules.  Sports also boosts self-esteem and confidence.

Still, you should be smart about it. Particularly when your kids are younger, get them involved in different sports at different times of the year. If possible, encourage them to be multi-sport athletes until at least seventh or eighth grade.

If your child insists on specializing in one sport, add in some cross training to reduce the risk of overuse injuries. You child should listen to their body if something is hurting and not be afraid to tell a parent or coach.  And have them take some time off – at least one month a year to allow their body to rest, recover and restore itself.  Most importantly, have fun and love whatever activity they are participating in.

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