More time on the field brings a greater risk of experiencing sports-related injuries. Pediatric sports medicine expert R. Jay Lee, M.D. at Johns Hopkins University provides these injury prevention tips to help keep your young athlete on the field rather than on the sidelines.
1. Talk with your young athlete.
Make sure your young athlete understands that he or she should talk with you and seek help if experiencing a pain or something that just doesn’t feel right.
2. Get a preseason physical.
A preseason or back-to-school physical is a great way to determine if your young athlete is fit to play.
3. Encourage cross-training and a variety of sports.
“I see kids today who play on two baseball or lacrosse teams on the same day or throughout the week and year. But it’s important for athletes to change the sports or activities they are doing so they are not continuously putting stress on the same muscles and joints,” warns Dr. Lee.
4. Stress the importance of warming up.
Stretching is an important prevention technique that should become habit for all athletes before starting an activity or sport. Dr. Lee suggests a mix of both static and dynamic stretching during warmups to help loosen the muscles and prepare them for play.
5. Make sure they rest.
Athletes of all ages need to rest between practices, games and events. A lack of sleep and muscle fatigue predispose an athlete to injury, says Lee. In fact, the most common injuries seen in young athletes are overuse injuries — too many sports and not enough rest.
6. Provide a healthy, well-balanced diet.
It’s important for athletes to eat a well-balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, and to maintain a regular eating schedule. For instance, have breakfast, lunch and dinner around the same time each day.
7. Emphasize hydration.
Heat-related illness is a real concern for athletes, especially during hot and humid days. Parents should make sure their children have adequate water before, during and after play, and watch for any signs of a heat-related illness, including fatigue, nausea, vomiting, confusion or fainting.
8. Get the proper equipment.
Protective equipment, like helmets, pads and shoes, are very important for injury prevention. Parents should talk with coaches before the season starts so that they have adequate time to properly outfit their child before practices begin.
9. Emphasize proper technique and guidelines.
In every sport, there is a correct way and a wrong way of doing things. For example, football players should be taught the proper way to tackle an opponent to avoid a concussion, and baseball players should be taught the proper way to throw and follow the guidelines on how many throws to make in a day.
10. Recognize injury and get help early.
“I’ve seen a number of young athletes who have serious injuries and didn’t do anything about them, and now the damage has progressed,” Dr. Lee warns. “We need to get these kids in to see a doctor earlier to keep this from happening.”
Dr. Lee warns: “Athletes will alter the way they do things because of pain, but then they can end up with a more serious injury because of it.”
Here are some ways to help prevent an injury from occurring.
Common injuries and locations: Sprains, strains, bruises, fractures, scrapes, dislocations, cuts, injuries to teeth, ankles, and knees.
Safest playing with: Eye protection, elbow and knee pads, mouth guard, athletic supporters for males, proper shoes, water. If playing outdoors, wear sunscreen and, when possible, a hat.
Injury prevention: Strength training (particularly knees and shoulders), aerobics (exercises that develop the strength and endurance of heart and lungs), warm-up exercises, proper coaching, use of safety equipment.
Track and Field
Common injuries: Strains, sprains, scrapes from falls.
Safest playing with: Proper shoes, athletic supporters for males, sunscreen, water.
Injury prevention: Proper conditioning and coaching.
Common injuries and locations: Bruises, sprains, strains, pulled muscles, tears to soft tissues such as ligaments, broken bones, internal injures (bruised or damaged organs), concussions, back injuries, sunburn. Knees and ankles are the most common injury sites.
Safest playing with: Helmet, mouth guard, shoulder pads, athletic supporters for males, chest/rib pads, forearm, elbow, and thigh pads, shin guards, proper shoes, sunscreen, water.
Injury prevention: Proper use of safety equipment, warm-up exercises, proper coaching techniques and conditioning.
Baseball and Softball
Common injuries: Soft tissue strains, impact injuries that include fractures caused by sliding and being hit by a ball, sunburn.
Safest playing with: Batting helmet, shin guards, elbow guards, athletic supporters for males, mouth guard, sunscreen, cleats, hat, detachable, “breakaway bases” rather than traditional, stationary ones.
Injury prevention: Proper conditioning and warm-ups.
Common injuries: Bruises, cuts and scrapes, headaches, sunburn.
Safest playing with: Shin guards, athletic supporters for males, cleats,
Injury prevention: Aerobic conditioning and warm-ups, and – when age appropriate – proper training in “heading” (that is, using the head to strike or make a play with the ball).