Health Encyclopedia

Sports Injury Prevention

Can sports injuries be prevented?

Picture of young boy, with a helmet, riding a bicycle

Many sports injuries can be prevented by the use of management tools that consider factors, such as the environment of a particular sport and protection of the individual.

Environmental factors to be considered when planning sports activities include the following:

  • The temperature of the environment (a cooler environment is best, when possible)

  • The playing surface (the more shock absorbent the surface, the fewer injuries that may occur)

  • The proximity of motor vehicles for activities, such as bicycling

  • Proper maintenance of equipment used in the sport

  • Firm enforcement of the rules

  • Proper medical evaluation prior to participation in organized sports

Protection of the individual includes the following:

  • Using protective devices, such as pads, helmets and gloves

  • Monitoring increases in activity to prevent the child from doing "too much, too soon"

  • Using shoes appropriate for the sport

  • Adequate rehabilitation of injuries before continuing to participate in a sport

Safety gear and equipment

Safety gear should be sport-specific and may include such items as goggles; mouthguards; shin, elbow, and knee pads; and helmets. The safety gear worn by a child should fit properly. In addition, sports equipment (such as bats, baskets, and goals) should be in good working condition and any damage should be repaired or replaced. The playing area should be free from debris and water.

Picture of a young boy, in protective gear, skateboarding

Physical checkup

To make sure your child is physically fit to participate in a particular sport, your child's doctor should conduct a sports physical. These physicals can reveal your child's physical strengths and weaknesses and help determine which sports are appropriate. Most sports physicals for children include a health examination that measures height, weight, and vital signs, as well as check eyes, nose, ears, chest, and abdomen. In addition, your child's doctor may perform an orthopedic examination to check joints, bones, and muscles.

Age

Starting a child in sports too young will not benefit the child physically. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children begin participating in team sports at age 6, when they better understand the concept of teamwork. However, no two children are alike, and some may not be ready physically or psychologically to take part in a team sport even at age 6. A parent should base his or her decision on whether to allow the child to take part in a particular sport based on the following:

  • Age

  • Weight

  • Build

  • Physical development

  • Emotional development

  • Child's interest in the sport

Note: AAP recommends that late-developing teens avoid contact sports until their bodies have developmentally "caught up" to their peers' bodies.

The importance of hydration

As your child participates in sports, he or she will sweat. This sweat must be replaced with equal amounts of fluids. Your child should drink fluids before, during, and after each practice or game. To avoid stomach cramps from drinking large amounts of fluids at once, encourage your child to drink about one cup of water (or a type of sports drink) every 15 to 20 minutes. Drinks to avoid include those with carbonation and caffeine. Also, watch children carefully when they are exercising in hot, humid weather as they can become dehydrated faster in these conditions. You should consider decreasing or stopping the activity when it is too hot.

The following are the most common symptoms of dehydration. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Thirstiness

  • Weakness

  • Headache

  • Dark-colored urine

  • Slight weight loss

If your child exhibits signs of dehydration, make sure he or she receives fluids immediately, as well as a snack. The symptoms of dehydration may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.