Parents: Understanding Children's Sports Injuries

Kids have always enjoyed playing games, but the landscape of childhood activities has evolved. Today, we see less of traditional games like freeze tag and more involvement in structured sports like T-ball, ice hockey, soccer, and gymnastics. While this shift is positive, given the numerous benefits of physical activity for children’s overall health, it also comes with a downside. Each year, over 2.6 million children aged 19 and under find themselves in emergency rooms due to sports- or recreation-related injuries.

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A Third of Childhood Injuries Stem from Sports

In the present day, nearly one out of every three childhood injuries occurs during sports or physical activities. The most common injuries involve sprains and strains, followed by fractures. While injuries can happen in virtually any sport, they are particularly prevalent in competitive team sports such as football, basketball, soccer, ice hockey, baseball, and softball. Additionally, activities involving repetitive movements like cheerleading, dance, and gymnastics also pose risks. It’s essential to note that the issue is often not the sport itself but how it’s performed.

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Serious Athletes at Young Ages

The landscape of children’s sports has drastically changed. As Dr. David Frumberg, an orthopedic surgeon at Yale Medicine, points out, “When I was growing up, it was about getting fresh air and having fun. Now if a child plays soccer, he might play five days a week, including weekends, and possibly year-round, even on multiple teams. Parents need to be cautious because growing children have growth plates in their bones that respond uniquely to stresses.”

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Children’s Sports Injuries: A New Focus

Early specialization in one sport places children at a higher risk of injuries, particularly overuse injuries like stress fractures and acute injuries such as ACL tears. Dr. Frumberg underscores that repeating the same movements, like pitching a baseball, without engaging in other sports, continuously stresses the same body part. This is not considered natural. Coaches and parents need to be aware of the risks and implement protective measures such as pitch limits to safeguard children’s shoulders and elbows.

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Practices Can Be Riskier Than Games

Surprisingly, 62% of organized sports-related injuries occur during practice rather than games or competitions. Many children dedicate hours to daily practice and even attend off-season training camps. However, a study involving over 1,200 athletes aged 8 to 18 revealed that kids who intensely focus on a single sport are 70% more likely to suffer overuse injuries, sometimes requiring up to six months of recovery time. To mitigate this risk, experts suggest a guideline where the number of hours spent training for a single sport each week should be lower than the child’s age.

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Even Younger Children Experience Overuse Injuries

Shockingly, 40% of all sports-related injuries happen to children aged 5 to 14. Dr. Frumberg points out that overuse injuries can even occur in 6- and 7-year-olds. Gymnastics, dance, and baseball are activities where children showing early promise are encouraged to specialize at very young ages. Dr. Frumberg’s concern is that when a sport causes pain in very young children, they may lose their enjoyment, confidence, and the desire to participate. It can even become a psychological concern when they think their bodies are “broken.”

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High-Risk Period: Starting a New Sport

The period when a child starts a new sport is when they face the highest risk of injury. The good news is that half of all sports injuries in children are preventable. Parents can take steps to reduce these risks by ensuring their children understand the rules of the sport, have appropriate gear, warm up before playing, and take breaks when tired or in pain. It’s also crucial that children are in good physical condition before embarking on any new sport.

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Engaging in sports offers children and teenagers numerous physical, mental, and emotional advantages. However, it’s crucial to recognize that specializing in a single sport from a young age might not be the surefire path to the stellar athletic career that parents and children often envision. Research suggests that diversifying sports activities can have substantial benefits. For instance, a Belgian study found that boys aged 10 to 12 who participated in multiple sports exhibited better physical fitness and gross motor coordination compared to those who specialized in a single sport. Similarly, a study of female Division I NCAA athletes in the United States revealed that only 17 percent had exclusively competed in their college sport during their early years.

Spotlight on Common Sports Injuries: ACL and Meniscus Tears

One prevalent sports injury is the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, a condition that often occurs during swift changes in direction. Dr. Frumberg notes that girls are at a higher risk of ACL injuries, primarily due to biomechanics, including knee angle and muscle support. Addressing these risks involves conditioning exercises to strengthen the hamstrings and improve landing mechanics.

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Spotlight on Common Sports Injuries: Shoulder Dislocation

Another common youth sports injury is a dislocated shoulder, frequently happening in contact sports like lacrosse, football, and rugby. These injuries typically result from collisions that impact the shoulder joint, forcing the humerus (ball joint) out of its socket. Such injuries increase the risk of subsequent dislocations and potential long-term issues, including arthritis.

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Spotlight on Common Sports Injuries: Fractures

Fractures are prevalent sports injuries, with the specific body parts at risk varying based on the sport. Ankle fractures can occur in sports that involve running and jumping, such as baseball, gymnastics, and volleyball. Hand, wrist, and arm fractures are common in sports using sticks, such as hockey and lacrosse. These fractures can be acute, stemming from trauma like collisions or falls, or stress fractures, which are tiny bone breaks caused by repetitive pounding, like jumping and landing.

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Prioritizing Prevention and Fun

Experiencing a sports injury can elevate a child’s risk of further injuries, making prevention essential. Dr. Frumberg emphasizes the importance of treating young patients effectively the first time to reduce the risk of long-term consequences. This includes temporarily removing them from sports until they heal and investigating underlying risk factors. Ultimately, the primary focus for children in sports should be having fun.

Reference

https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/kids-sports-injuries

https://www.mclaren.org/main/news/protecting-kids-from-spring-and-summer-sports-inju-4424

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