Participating in sports is great for children both physically and psychologically. Sports can increase a child's physical coordination, fitness and self-esteem. In addition, sports can teach children about teamwork and self-discipline.
Because children's bodies are still growing and their coordination is still developing, children are more susceptible to sports-related injuries. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 2.6 million children younger than 19 years are treated in the emergency department each year for sports- and recreation-related injuries. In addition, each year, an estimated 1.7 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
What is a TBI?
A TBI is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury. A TBI may range in severity from “mild,” i.e., a brief change in mental status or consciousness to “severe,” i.e., an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury. The majority of TBIs that occur each year are concussions or other forms of mild TBI.
What is a concussion?
A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) caused by a blow or jolt to the head or body that causes the brain to shake. The shaking can cause the brain to not work normally and can result in serious side effects. Each year, thousands of children and youth are diagnosed with concussion — only half are sports related. Visit Concussion Care for Kids: Minds Matter to learn more about concussion recognition and management.
What sports are most dangerous?
Contact and collision sports like football, basketball, ice hockey and soccer may cause injuries, but so can other sports, including:
- Bicycling, skateboarding and inline skating
- Unpowered scooters
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most injuries in young athletes are due to overuse. The most frequent sports-related injuries are sprains (injuries to ligaments) and strains (injuries to muscles), caused when an abnormal stress is placed on tendons, joints, bones and muscle.
Tips to prevent sports-related injuries
Fortunately, you can do a lot to help keep your kids safe when they grab that baseball mitt or skateboard and head out the door:
- Gear it up. Make sure children use the protective gear developed for the sport, such as helmets, shin guards, wrist and knee protectors and mouth guards. Also, ensure that all safety gear fits properly. Poorly fitting equipment may be uncomfortable and may not offer the best protection.
- Be physically fit. Schedule a “sports physical” with your child's physician to examine your child's physical strengths and weaknesses and to 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 checks eyes, nose, ears, chest and abdomen. In addition, your child's physician may perform an orthopaedic examination to check joints, bones and muscles.
- Learn it first. Make sure your child gets the proper training and knows the safety rules for his activity and is physically conditioned to participate. In football and soccer, for example, knowing how to tackle safely is important in preventing injuries.
- Be age-appropriate. Your child will develop at a different rate from others of her age, both physically and mentally. Match your child with others of the same skill, physical development and maturity levels, so she’s less likely to be injured by those with more — or less — experience.
- Practice makes perfect. Most sports-related injuries occur in practice, so let your child know it's important to follow safety rules in games and practice. Warming up and stretching is important before practice, and sometimes after a workout, so make sure your child knows how to stretch correctly.
- Keep it flowing. Parents and coaches should pay close attention to make sure that players are hydrated and appropriately dressed. Make sure they drink about one cup of water or sports drinks every 15 to 20 minutes, before and during the activity; decrease or stop practices or competitions during high heat/humidity periods.
- Walk it through. Before practices or games, take a quick walk around the playing field to check for rocks, holes, uneven surfaces or other hazards.
The importance of hydration
Children are at increased risk of heat illness. Compared to adults, children sweat less and produce more metabolic heat during physical activities. Children just beginning summer practices for organized sports are particularly vulnerable to suffering some form of illness such as dehydration or head stroke.
As your child participates in sports, he will sweat. This sweat must be replaced with equal amounts of fluids, usually 1 to 1½ liters per hour of intense sports activity. 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. Your child should avoid drinks that include carbonation and caffeine.
The following are the most common symptoms of dehydration. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- Dark-colored urine
- Slight weight loss
If your child exhibits signs of dehydration, make sure she receives fluids immediately, as well as a snack. The symptoms of dehydration may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.