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Playing It Safe Preventing Sports Injuries

Sunday, August 6, 2017

If you go into my attic, you will find a pair of crutches. For years, they have been used on and off for every member of the family.  A broken leg, a torn ACL, a bad ankle sprain, and painful tendonitis are but a few of the injuries in the Wichtowski household.  It seemed that at least once a year, one of my kiddos had an injury, usually from a sports practice or game.  As it turns out, our household is rather typical.  Every year, over 36 million children play an organized sport and 2.6 million of those youngsters will visit the emergency department for a sport or recreation related injury. 

Injuries vary from run of the mill scrapes and bruises to serious brain and spinal cord injuries.  Most, however, fall into the musculoskeletal category.   According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the most frequent types of sports injuries are sprains (injuries to ligaments connecting two or more bones), strains (injuries to muscles), and stress fractures (injuries to bones).  Not all these injuries will show up on an x-ray but they do cause pain and discomfort.  Many of these injuries will respond to the RICE treatment – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.  Other treatments may include crutches, cast immobilization, or physical therapy. Get professional medical care if the injury is severe. The National Institutes of Health defines severe as an obvious fracture, dislocation of a joint, prolonged swelling, or prolonged and/or severe pain.     It is important for children (and their parents) to be active. The benefits of exercise far outweigh the risk for injury.  Exercise reduces the chance for obesity and the risk for type 2 diabetes. In addition, it helps build social and leadership skills.  Not to mention, sports are fun!  Nonetheless, injuries happen. With a little planning and good habits, many injuries may be avoided. The American Academy of Pediatrics 2017 Sports Injury Prevention Tip Sheet offers the following advice:

  • Take time off. Plan to have at least 1 day off per week and at least one month off per year from training for a particular sport to allow the body to recover.
  • Wear the right gear.  Players should wear appropriate and properly fit protective equipment such as pads (neck, shoulder, elbow, chest, knee, shin), helmets, mouthpieces, face guards, protective cups, and eyewear. Young athletes should not assume that protective gear will prevent all injuries while performing more dangerous or risky activities.
  • Strengthen muscles. Conditioning exercises during practice strengthens muscles used in play.
  • Increase flexibility. Stretching exercises after games or practice can increase flexibility. Stretching should also be incorporated into a daily fitness plan.
  • Use the proper technique. This should be reinforced during the playing season.
  • Take breaks. Rest periods during practice and games can reduce injuries and prevent heat illness.
  • Play safe. Strict rules against headfirst sliding (baseball and softball), spearing (football), and checking (in hockey) should be enforced.
  • Do not play through pain.  In addition, do not play when very tired, as reflexes and coordination will not be optimal. 
  • Avoid heat illness by drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise or play.  Schedule regular fluid breaks during practice and games.  For example, drink 8 to 16 ounces of water, 15 to 30 minutes before exercising, 4 to 8 ounces every 20 minutes while playing, and 16 to 20 ounces after play to rehydrate. Plain water usually suffices; however, sports drinks may prove beneficial for prolonged or intense exercise or warm to hot and humid conditions.  Decrease or stop practices or competitions during high heat/humidity periods; wear light clothing. 
  • If children are jumping on a trampoline, a responsible adult should supervise them, and only one child should be on the trampoline at a time; 75% of trampoline injuries occur when more than one person is jumping at a time.

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville, NY.  For article suggestions or more information, contact Lorraine at or (585)335-4327.

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