Get Ready For a Safe Fall Sports Season
By Tara Forcier, MD // July 28, 2013
MINIMIZE INJURIES IN YOUNG ATHLETES
ABOVE VIDEO: i9 Sports Program Director, Michael Keating, discusses the importance of safety in youth sports with NBC6 in Miami. Almost four million youth sports injuries occur every year, but most of these injuries can be prevented. (Video by i9Sports)
BREVARD COUNTY • ROCKLEDGE, FLORIDA — August heralds a new school year and also means gearing up for fall sports for many families. Now that many sports are played year-round, there are more options than ever.
Participation in sports can be a wonderful opportunity for children to learn teamwork and strategy. Even more importantly, it helps to keep children active and fit, which is essential to their mental and physical well-being.
But nearly every sport carries a risk for injury. Although each sport may have specific recommendations for safe play (e.g. children under the age of thirteen should be discouraged from “heading” the ball in soccer while older children should learn the proper technique to prevent head and neck injuries).
10 COMMANDMENTS OF SAFE PLAY
- Make sure your child has a yearly physical exam. Ask the doctor specifically if your child’s physical condition puts them at risk for any specific types of injuries.
- Be sure that the field or playing surface is safe. Playing on fields with holes or ruts, or surfaces that are slippery can lead to more injuries.
- Use the appropriate protective equipment every time. This includes mouth guards, padding, and eye protection as needed.
- Before each game and at the start of every practice children should warm up with a low intensity cardiovascular activity, followed by stretching.
- Instruct your child to follow the rules of the game and ensure that the coach does not allow illegal play.
- Encourage safe play. Children should be taught how to think about avoiding injuries as part of the skills of the game. A good player learns to anticipate potentially harmful situations and take actions to avoid them.
- Stretch after practices and games to improve flexibility and prevent later soreness of muscles.
- Remember that injuries increase when fatigue sets in. Hydration and good nutrition will help delay the onset of fatigue. Water is the best fluid source for most kids playing sports. However, if the kids are involved in extended play or exposure to the elements, a sports drink that includes electrolytes and sugar (a quick energy source) may be a helpful addition.
- Heat and sun exposure are special considerations for outdoor sports here in Florida. Sunscreen, hydration, appropriate breaks for rest, as well as the use of a tent for shade, will help to prevent sunburn, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
- Keep sports fun. An inappropriate emphasis on competition above safety, or a “win at all cost” mentality, will cause some young athletes to make choices that harm themselves or others, leading to more injuries, some of which could be severe enough to prevent future sports participation.
INJURY MANAGEMENT DEPENDS ON TYPE AND SEVERITY
Despite the best precautions, some injuries are inevitable. Approximately three million children and adolescents ages 14 and under get hurt annually playing sports or participating in recreational activities.
Most athletic injuries are mild (cuts, scrapes, and bruises). However, more than 775,000 children and adolescents ages 14 and under are treated in hospital emergency rooms for sports-related injuries each year. Treatment of an injury will depend on the kind and severity of the injury.
- Sports injuries can generally be categorized as either overuse or acute (traumatic) injuries. Overuse injuries result from stress on muscles, joints, and soft tissues that are not given enough time to heal and are felt as chronic pain or soreness. Overuse injuries can often be avoided with appropriate stretching, resting when pain or injury occurs, and participating in sports and activities that focus on different muscle groups or areas of the body (cross-training) rather than playing the same sport year-round.
- Acute injuries typically result from a trauma, such as a fall or collision. Among the most common serious acute injuries are sprains, muscle strains, fractures, and head injuries. Sprains occur when ligaments surrounding a joint are stretched or torn. Knee injuries are often sprains, but when ligaments or knee cartilage are torn, these injuries can be very serious.
- Muscle strains are caused by pulling a muscle too far in a direction it doesn’t want to go, contracting a muscle hard against resistance, or contracting a muscle hard when it is not ready. Flexibility is the key to avoid muscle strains, and is developed by careful stretching.
- Fractures to bone may occur while playing sports, and are often seen after contact or collision with other players. Ankle fractures are especially common in children because they still have open growth plates and these areas are weaker than the ligaments pulling on them.
- Head injuries include dental, eye, and brain injuries. Closed-head injury usually occurs when players collide with each other, the ground, or with equipment (e.g. goal posts). A concussion may result and will vary in severity, with effects sometimes lasting weeks to months. Some head injuries are fatal.
When an injury occurs, apply appropriate first aid. Follow the acronym R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation). Rest or stop using the injured area for about 48 hours or until pain is gone. Place ice pack on injured area for 15-20 minutes at a time, 4 to 8 times per day. Use bandages, wraps, or splints to compress an injured area to reduce swelling. Elevate the injured area above the level of the heart if possible. The use of ibuprofen or similar medicine may help to reduce pain and inflammation.
Seek medical attention for any moderate to severe injury, especially head injuries, and for any injury that affects basic function of the injured area. If your child has sustained an injury, do not let them continue to play while in pain. This leads to an increased risk of more serious injury and a longer recovery time. Follow your doctor’s orders regarding recovery and return to play.
STRENGTH TRAINING IN CHILDREN
I am often asked whether it is safe for children and teens to lift weights. Strength training is actually beneficial for children as young as eight years of age if the intent is to increase strength and flexibility, however children and teens should not lift weights to “bulk up” until after puberty.
Strength training should be done under the supervision of a trained professional. When strength training is done safely and properly, children and teens will start by using small weights with a high number of repetitions (e.g. ten to twelve), increase the weight by small intervals, and use 6-8 different exercises no more than two to three times weekly.
Sports participation is a fun way to exercise a child’s body and mind. Although some injuries are bound to happen, there are many precautions that parents and coaches can take to avoid injuries in young athletes. When a child gets hurt, offer appropriate first aid, stop play for a child in pain, and seek medical attention for any injury that affects basic function of the injured area.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Forcier is a native of Brevard County and is a graduate of Satellite High School. She attended college and medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and completed her pediatric training at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Forcier returned to Brevard County with her family in 2004 and practices medicine with Pediatrics in Brevard at the Rockledge location. She resides in Satellite Beach with her husband, Joel Wilson, and their three sons.