Playing sports is a practical and fun way for many children to stay healthy and active. However, sports injuries account for almost a third of all injuries in children. So finding a way for kids to get the most out of sports while keeping them safe is important to many parents.
Christine Boyd, MD, medical director of the sports medicine program at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, offers her expert advice on the best ways to help young athletes achieve peak performance and avoid injury.
According to Dr. Boyd, getting into sports is a good way to start. Start slow with family walks, games of Frisbee, biking, or hiking in the weeks leading up to school. Jumping straight into a rigorous sports program after a quiet summer can make kids more susceptible to injury. “One of the important things that parents can do is to gradually start increasing children’s activity levels,” Dr. Boyd advises.
Another thing to consider is the number of sports your child will participate in each year. Following a demanding sports program can be a constraint for your child. “Particularly during times of rapid growth, children are at increased risk of injury,” says Dr. Boyd.
“If you have a child who is going through their growth spurt, be very careful not to overload them with the volume of sports training and play because their injury rate is much higher,” she says. Hard-playing kids also need plenty of sleep and quality nutrition to give their bodies the time and fuel to recover after a long day.
It is essential that children have fun, especially for young children who may not be ready to appreciate the competitive nature of sports. “I like that they play a lot of sports and make sure their environment is positive, as opposed to super intense and competitive sport for a 5-year-old,” she says. “I think they need to move their bodies in different ways because they’re still developing their basic motor skills, and you don’t want to isolate just one set of movement patterns in a sport.”
A sports physical exam with your child’s pediatrician is another way to help prepare them for their favorite sport. This visit can be combined with an annual wellness exam and is often required before starting school or participating in organized sports teams. The doctor will use this time to assess your child’s general health and identify any concerns that may be a risk factor for injury. “These are usually done a month or two before a child starts playing sports, mainly so that if there is a need for intervention we have time to do it,” says Dr Boyd .
While young children tend to sustain minor injuries, such as scrapes and bruises, the stakes increase as children get older. “As we move into middle school and high school, there are usually more joint sprains, muscle strains, and some overuse injuries because of their volume,” she says.
According to Dr. Boyd, knowing which injuries are common for each sport can also help parents watch for warning signs. “For baseball players, swimmers, or overhead athletes, we see a lot more shoulder and elbow issues,” she says. “For other sports, like soccer, basketball or soccer, we’ll see more ankle and knee injuries just from the stress of the sport.”
With contact sports like football, soccer or basketball, parents should also be aware of the risk of concussion. “Sports-related concussions are obviously a hot topic and an important topic that we all need to be aware of,” Dr. Boyd points out. “Over the past five years there has been a huge increase in public awareness of injury and how to manage and recognize it.”
If your child has symptoms of a concussion (dizziness, headache, blurred vision, fatigue, brain fog, or difficulty walking), call your pediatrician right away. Dr. Boyd explains that some children may not show symptoms until several hours to a day later. “Even the next day, if they wake up and they have a headache, just think back to the game: was there anything in the game that was a big tackle, a big contact, that could have cause a concussion?” she says.
Even with the best precautions, at some point your child could still get hurt. Dr. Boyd recommends watching for swelling, worsening pain, and reduced range of motion in joints. “My rule of thumb is if something is very misshapen or very sore that ice and ibuprofen at home just isn’t enough, then you’ll probably have to go to the ER or urgent care on the weekend. end,” she said. said. “Other than that it can wait until next week and can be seen by your primary care doctor.”
Bruises, minor sprains and other minor injuries can usually be treated at home, says Dr. Boyd. “Icing in the first 48 hours with light compression are the two things that can help the most,” she explains. “If someone has a mild injury and they return to sport too soon afterwards and they don’t let it fully heal, that’s another high risk period for injury.”
It’s always a good idea to contact your child’s pediatrician when you have questions or concerns about an injury. They can direct you to the best treatment and help you if your child needs more specialized care. “Most sports injuries can be seen by the pediatrician first, and then if a pediatrician feels it needs to be seen by a specialist, I think a specialist in pediatric orthopedics and sports medicine offers a lot of benefits,” says Dr. Boyd. .
For more information on sports injuries, see “Treating a Minor Sports Injury” or “Preventing Sports Injuries”.