By Nicole Demetrescu
Injuries in sports, especially overuse injuries, are common following periods of rest, and for many children the start of springtime sports is a prime time to get hurt. Strength imbalances (where the muscle on one side of the joint is stronger than the muscle on the other side), poor flexibility, poor core control (where the tummy and hip muscles aren’t strong enough to help the body move properly) and body alignment (e.g. flat feet, knock-knees, etc.) also contribute.
Here are some ways you can help your child prepare for the upcoming season and reduce their chances of becoming injured during play:
1) Get a pre-season physical exam. Also consider consulting with a sports medicine professional or physical therapist to establish a conditioning program specific to your child’s body and sport;
2) Make sure your child’s protective equipment (helmet, shin guards, shoes/cleats, knee pads, mouthguard) fit properly and are in good working order;
3) Make sure your child warms-up and cools-down with each practice/game for 5-10 minutes. If their coach doesn’t build this into the routine, do it yourself;
4) Know the signs of a concussion and watch for them if your child has a collision or bump;
5) In general, increasing activity by 10% each week is appropriate, but not more;
6) Stay hydrated! By the time a child is thirsty, they’re already behind;
7) Eat properly and get enough sleep. Rest between sessions. The body requires time to adapt to activity in order to perform efficiently;
8) Listen to your child – if they tell you they are in pain, listen! Get them evaluated and don’t let them return to play until cleared by a medical professional. (Minor injuries often improve after 2-3 days of rest. If your child’s does not, contact your physician);
9) Don’t encourage your child to “catch up” with training following an injury – this can result in even greater injury by not allowing the body adequate time to heal, recover and adapt;
10) Cross-train. Allow children opportunities to use their bodies in ways other than required for their sport. Swimmers can go for jogs, soccer players can play tennis and football players can go for a swim!
11) Consider letting your child take one season off/year, especially if they play only one sport. This prevents over-training, reduces the risk of overuse injuries and prevents burn-out.
Once the season begins, your most important jobs are to support your athlete’s effort on the field and to listen to them. Do not encourage them to play through pain, and get them evaluated when they are injured before you let them return to play.
For more information on preventing injuries in young athletes, including sport-specific recommendations, visit “STOP Sports Injuries: Keeping Kids in the Game for Life” at www.STOPSportsInjuries.org.