Raising an Athlete: Preventing Sports Injuries in Children
Sports-related injuries are the leading cause of injury among adolescents. Dual-fellowship trained pediatric orthopedic and sports medicine surgeon, Alfred Mansour, M.D., team physician for the NBA Houston Rockets, little league coach, parent of three and former NCAA All-American athlete, shares his tried-and-true advice for parents of kids with big dreams.
How do you choose a sport for your child?
Kids need to be kids before they become little pro athletes. Involvement in multiple sports allows kids to cross train and develop gross motor skills while they have fun.
Children can transition through sports by season. For example, baseball, softball, lacrosse or swimming in the spring and summer; football, basketball, soccer, volleyball or gymnastics in the winter and fall. The rotation allows kids’ bodies to recover while maintaining condition.
What other activities would you suggest?
Many outdoor activities – in addition to organized sports – are great for conditioning. Freeze tag, chase, cycling, swimming, tennis, hiking and vigorous family activities build coordination, muscle strength and endurance.
What’s the risk in concentrating on a single sport?
Early high-level athletics expose children to an elite level of play, but also to injuries. As a physician, it’s very difficult for me to talk to a 12-year-old about a career-ending injury, but it definitely happens.
At an early age, kids play sports for fun, but they aren’t aware of technique, so they aren’t necessarily watching for problem signs. They may be performing the task but not protecting themselves from injury.
Too much of a “good thing” can lead to overuse injuries and even career-ending injuries.
What kinds of injuries occur in young athletes?
There are acute injuries such as broken bones, but most injuries – such as elbow or shoulder problems – are due to overuse. Growth plate or stress injuries are compounded by insufficient conditioning.
How can parents help reduce the risk of injury?
Kids are kids, and they need help making good decisions. Parents need to serve as advisors. Sometimes the advice isn’t the fun answer or the one a child wants to hear, but they need help in understanding the long-term picture.
Make sure your child is both physically and mentally prepared for the sport. Have a pre-participation medical exam, especially if your child has pre-existing conditions, so you can develop an action plan.
What are some common warning signs of injury?
Watch for limping or swelling. Learn to differentiate between pain around muscles, which is usually normal, and pain around joints, which can be a sign of something worse. Also watch for declines in performance, outward changes in technique or loss of enthusiasm about the sport.
Kids are resilient and their bodies want to reverse injuries and heal themselves. Most conditions can be reversible with rest and activity modification. If pain persists or symptoms recur after a sports activity, it’s time to seek professional help through a visit with an experienced healthcare provider. Of course, acute injuries such as broken bones should be seen in a comprehensive pediatric trauma center as soon as possible.
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