While there is a certain amount of risk involved in participatory sports, parents, coaches and program supervisors share the ultimate responsibility for providing maximum safety in a healthy playing climate. A balanced, well-managed sports environment provides a fertile ground for the child's natural growth and physical/emotional and social development.
Yet, even in the safest of settings, accidents can occur and children may get hurt. Knowing the types of injuries commonly sustained as well as why and how children get hurt, will enlighten parents, coaches, and other responsible parties to seek preventive safety measures, and help reduce the incidence of injury.
What are the most common sports injuries to children?
Sprains, strains, contusions, abrasions, and lacerations make up 60 percent of all sports injuries to children. Surprisingly, fractures account for less than 15 percent of injuries. As a general rule the younger the child, the less severe the injury. However, it is also true that the more rapidly children grow, the more susceptible they are to injury at bone growth sites (knee, heel, shoulder, elbow, hip and back).
What are the causes of sports injuries in children?
Given the spontaneous nature of children, their limited degree of agility and the controlled chaos of children's play, it is not surprising that falls twists and collisions, will inevitably result in strains and sprains, bruises and abrasions. There are some sports that yield sport specific injuries such as gymnastics, soccer and baseball.
Soccer players who are hit by the ball, fall and come into contact with other players, often suffer from sprains, bruises, knee, ankle and shin injuries.
Gymnastics is growing in popularity with training starting as early as age 3. Although the risk of injury seems proportionate to the skill of the athlete, the greatest number of injuries occur during floor exercises and tumbling, with other injuries resulting from upsets on the balance beam and uneven parallel bars. The most common injuries to gymnasts are spinal injuries
A characteristic complaint of single-sport athletes, particularly baseball players is that the injury is directly related to the frequency and intensity of the pitch. "Little League Elbow" results in pain, stiffness and reduced range of motion. Swimmers and skaters may also be at risk for developing an overuse syndrome because of repetitive stress on particular joints.
The more contact that occurs in a sport the greater the likelihood for injury. Consider football and ice hockey where physical contact is not only unavoidable, it is encouraged and required on every shift. Consistent training to ensure that a child knows and properly employs the fundamental techniques can help. The most severe injuries occur when a participant is not as well skilled and is simply relying upon an overabundance of enthusiasm and tenacity.
How can my chiropractor help?
The role of the Chiropractor is crucial in preventing sports injuries in children. Prior to any sports involvement, the child should undergo a Pre-Participation Evaluation. This consists of a routine medical history and physical examination with emphasis on a neuromusculoskeletal evaluation. All of which are helpful in determining the readiness factor of the child for the sport in question.
The examination may uncover special medical problems that may prevent the child from participating in sports. Additionally such an evaluation should indicate which activities are more suited to a child with special medical considerations such as juvenile diabetes or asthma and previous sports injuries or other clinical problems that may prevent the child from participating in sports.
How else can I protect my child against sports injuries?
Although parents may not be able to soften the blow from an athletic injury, they can minimize serious injury by taking some basic preventative measures.
- Determine the child's physical maturation level and match the child's size with an appropriate sport. Most competitive children's sports are organized according to chronological age rather than physical skill or maturation. Slower maturing children are often at greater risk of injury because they are competing with peers who may be larger and physically more developed.
- De-emphasize winning. When it comes to sports, children primarily want to have fun. Secondarily they may want to win. Parents who emphasize winning are placing undue stress on children and robbing them of the joy of simply participating.
- A child who is stressed, who is trying to meet parents' and coaches' or even his own unrealistic expectations are more susceptible to injury than a child who enters the playing arena with the confidence that comes from a positive and encouraging attitude.
Remember that overuse injuries can be caused or aggravated by:
- Growth spurts
- Inadequate warm up
- Excessive activity - for example, increased intensity, duration or frequency
- Improper technique
- Poorly fitting equipment
Another common sports hurdle is the risk of re-injury. Reinjury occurs when someone returns to the sport before an injury has sufficiently healed. Returning to the playing field too soon places stress upon the injury especially around sites of soft tissue non-union and forces the body to compensate for the weakness. In sports requiring a high level of coordination, timing and agility, this compensation can cause their entire performance to suffer. If your child has had a significant injury, the worst thing you can do for their sports career is to push them back into too quickly. Listen to the health care professional and follow the advise.
Sports involvement is one way children can implement fitness as an integral component of their lifestyle. To be successful, the elements of the child/sports equation must add up to fun, fitness and safety. Parents, coaches, sponsors, and chiropractors must actively help to create an esteem-building experience that will be memorable for the child long past the moment of play.