Help Kids Play Safe

Protect your young athletes from school sports injuries
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Participating in sports offers several benefits: exercise, camaraderie, lessons in commitment and—most of all—fun. Perhaps the only negative is the possibility of injury. And that’s where smart parents and coaches come in.

Every sport has an injury risk, says Kenneth Swan Jr., M.D., an orthopedic surgeon affi liated with Saint Peter’s University Hospital and the CARES Surgicenter, both members of Saint Peter’s Healthcare System. The good news is that the vast majority of injuries are minor ones, such as sprains and strains of muscles, tendons and ligaments. Broken bones and concussions are always a playingfield danger, but they’re less common.

“The best way to avoid injury is to get in shape early,” says Dr. Swan. “Kids should engage in both aerobic activities and strength training before the season starts.” Training should include activities different from the sport—runners should ride a bike, for example, and football players might swim or play tennis. This is called cross-training, and it ensures that all parts of the body receive conditioning, Dr. Swan says. Once the season begins, kids should take time to warm up, with lots of stretching of muscles, before their practices or games and cool down with more stretching afterward, he says. Finally, lace-up ankle braces worn under the sneakers can help prevent sprains.

Minor injuries can be treated at home with the time-tested “RICE” regimen: rest, ice, compression and elevation. More serious injuries require treatment right away at a hospital emergency room or an urgent-care clinic.

How do you know if an injury requires medical attention? If your child suffers a concussion—a blow to the head that is followed by headache, confusion, double or blurry vision, balance problems, a sluggish feeling, nausea or vomiting, sensitivity to light or noise or loss of consciousness— he or she should not return to play until checked out and OK’d by a medical professional. “Fortunately, most concussions are mild,” says Dr. Swan, “but err on the side of caution because a repeat concussion can be dangerous.”

Neck injuries, which are common in football and soccer, can also be severe. “If there is any spinal cord involvement —meaning loss of motor or sensory function or severe neck pain, or a tingling in the extremities—these injuries need careful treatment by trained paramedics or athletic trainers,” says Dr. Swan.

Also requiring immediate attention are broken bones (sometimes marked by a snapping sound and often followed by pain, swelling or deformity), open fractures, dislocations of joints (and tears such as those of the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee) and anything that affects circulation to the hand or foot, such as a severe knee or shoulder injury.

 

CUT YOUR CHILD’S INJURY RISK

Make sure your young athletes:

Take time off.

Kids should plan at least one day off per week from a sport to allow the body to recover.

Wear the right gear.

Players should wear appropriate and properly fitting protective equipment such as pads, helmets, mouthpieces, face guards, protective cups and eyewear.

Use proper techniques.

Rules against dangerous plays, such as tackling with the head in football, should be strictly enforced.

Take breaks.

Rest periods during practice and games can reduce injuries and prevent heat illness.

Don’t play with pain.

Athletes should retreat to the sidelines if they’re hurting.

Avoid becoming overheated.

Kids need to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise or play and should limit activity in extreme heat.

Learn the signs of concussion.

Players must speak up when a  teammate exhibits concussion symptoms.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

 

Related Read: Not Just for Jocks

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