With all of the emphasis on fitness, few Americans realize that sports injuries have risen dramatically in school-age children.
While bumps, bruises and even broken bones have been with us forever, today athletes between the ages of 12 and 15 suffer 47% of all concussions. Most of these are preventable and predictable, according to an advocacy group, Safe Kids Worldwide.
It’s especially worrisome because kids’ brains are not fully formed. They take longer to recover from a concussion, and one concussion sets them up for repeats. Somewhat surprisingly, girls are more apt to suffer a concussion than boys.
That’s not the only problem. Overuse injuries to tendons, bones and joints are common in kids who make the same repetitive motions (such as kicking a soccer ball) over and over again. Researchers found that athletes who practiced for more hours each week than their age— like a 12-year-old basketball player who logs 15 hours per week— are much more likely to suffer a serious overuse injury.
Favorite sports, frequent injuries
The sports with the highest number of injuries are
- football, which had the highest concussion rate of any single sport
- hockey, which had the highest percentage of concussions among all sports
Injuries tend to occur (in order of frequency) to the ankle, head, finger, knee, and face.
However, these are hardly the only sports where injuries occur. Soccer, basketball and skiing have a high incidence of traumatic injuries. Runners, dancers and gymnasts report the most stress fractures, which affect the tibia, fibula and spine. If your child is complaining of pain, it’s a good idea to have him or her see the doctor.
So what are we supposed to do, ban sports? It’s been drummed into parents that children need physical activity. Organized sports are the easiest way to see that they have regular exercise.
The problem is specialization. We know that cross-training is good for adults because it works different parts of the body— running for the cardio, yoga for flexibility, tennis for upper body. Now we need to apply that principle to our children.
Because young bodies are not fully developed, they can easily be distorted or injured when performing the same motions day after day.
For instance, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries in young athletes were once rare; now they are common.
Another new phenomenon is called ‘Little League shoulder’ or ‘Little League elbow’. The names pretty much describe the injuries.
These injuries were unknown to a previous generation of pediatricians. Now it’s orthopedic surgeons who are at the forefront of treatment for children’s sports injuries.
Preventative Sports Medicine for Young Athletes
A child’s body is constantly changing. Their size, musculature, flexibility, sexual development and psychology are all in flux.
After an injury, when he or she returns to their favorite activity, the schedule should stress gradual progress. Some trainers advocate the 10% rule: If a child is running 20 minutes per week, the following week’s training would be limited to 22 minutes.
Coaches are not doctors, and they should not be allowed to dictate a child’s training schedule. A parent can intercede, convincing both coach and gung-ho young athlete that a break from their favorite sport can be healthier than relentless practice.
If your child is injured on the playing field, have them leave the arena immediately. They should stop using the injured body part. You can apply ice to the injured area to reduce swelling (don’t allow them to sleep on an ice pack, though). You may be able to wrap the area in a compression bandage, and elevate a foot, knee or ankle.
Obviously, you want to schedule a visit to the clinic as soon as possible.
A child is not a little adult. As parents and doctors, we must make that our new sports slogan.