Tips for Preventing Sports Injuries in Kids and Teens

An estimated 30 to 50 million children participate in youth sports each year. This is great news, as sports can increase physical fitness, boost self-esteem, strengthen problem-solving skills, and encourage teamwork. Sports come with some unavoidable hazards, but the proper precautions will substantially minimize the chances of injury, allowing your child to enjoy all the benefits of youth sports with as few risks as possible.

Schedule a Preseason Physical

Doctor/nurse with arms folded holding a stethoscope.

Take your child for a pre-participation physical exam (PPE) before the start of any sports season. Let your healthcare provider know exactly what type of sport your child plans to play so they can appropriately assess their physical fitness for that activity. A PPE evaluates your child for any conditions that may predispose them to injury or create a disabling or life-threatening problem, such as an undiagnosed heart condition or asthma.

The PPE will also assess your child’s range of motion, fitness level, and general health. Scheduling a routine PPE before each sports season will give you the information you need to help your child participate in sports safely and successfully.

Use the Proper Protective Equipment

Each sport has its own form of protective equipment designed to keep children safe. This may include a helmet, mouth guard, pads, protective eyewear, and more. Speak to your child’s coach for more detailed information on what you’ll need for the sport. When purchasing protective equipment, it’s important that it fits correctly. Don’t purchase items that are too large with the justification that your child will “grow into them.” Since ill-fitting equipment can pose a danger of its own, invest in appropriately sized items.

It’s best to avoid secondhand items. Used equipment may have suffered wear and tear, making it less effective at protecting your child.

Stick With Supervised Teams

When you’re choosing an activity for your child or teen, it’s important to make sure there’s proper adult supervision. All coaches should have CPR and first aid training to assess injuries on the field or court and provide appropriate recommendations. The league or organization that your child plays with should have clearly defined rules and guidelines with a strong commitment to safety and health.

Watch out for overly zealous coaches who encourage children to push through excessive pain and play at all costs. The cost to a teen or child can be a chronic condition they suffer from for their entire life if serious injuries go untreated.

Always Warm-Up

Warming up is crucial for games and practices. The best warm-up incorporates both static and dynamic stretches. Static stretches involve moving a muscle as far as it can comfortably go and holding it for 20 to 45 seconds. Athletes should repeat these stretches two to three times each. Dynamic stretches move joints through their full range of motion. Arm circles, squats, and lunges are examples of dynamic stretches.

Immediately Address Any Pain

Some discomfort is normal when children and teens participate in sports and other physical activities. However, they shouldn’t be in significant pain. It’s always best to address persistent pain as soon as possible, so the injury doesn’t worsen. If a fracture goes untreated in a child or teen, it can heal improperly, altering the future development of that joint. This may cause permanent damage and can contribute to the development of conditions like osteoarthritis.

Take your child to see a healthcare provider if they experience:

Maintain a Healthy Diet

Active teens and children need to consume plenty of healthy calories and lots of water. Prepare meals and snacks centered around whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. Avoid sugary snacks and processed foods as much as possible. A turkey and veggie wrap with fruit salad will serve your child better than a cheeseburger and fries any day.

Hydration is essential before, during, and after physical activity. Kids should take a water break every 20 minutes when they’re working hard, particularly in hot weather. Always send a full water bottle with your child for practice and games, and provide multiple bottles of water for day camps if there’s no water source for refills throughout the day.

Provide Time for Rest

The most common sports injuries among young athletes are from overuse. Energetic and easily excitable kids may overwork their muscles without realizing it. Make sure children rest at least one full day each week. They shouldn’t engage in strenuous physical activity more than five days a week. Seasonally, they should take one month off from sports for every three months of play.

Young athletes need plenty of nightly rest to recover. Unfortunately, 42% of student-athletes report getting inadequate sleep. Three in five of these young athletes sleep less than seven hours a night. Student-athletes between the ages of six and 12 should get at least nine to 11 hours of sleep a night. Adolescents should aim for nine or 10 hours of sleep a night.

Pursue a Variety of Sports

Children should pursue a wide range of sports and activities. Focusing on a single sport places severe strain on a single group of muscles and joints. Participating in several different sports offers the diversity kids need for well-rounded growth and development. Diversification also helps them avoid the burnout that can come from a prolonged focus on one particular activity. If your child isn’t interested in different team sports, encourage them to diversify with other types of activities like hiking, climbing, or swimming with the family, taking morning jogs, or participating in fitness classes such as yoga.

If you suspect your child is suffering from a sports injury, contact a trusted healthcare provider as soon as possible. Our team at The Hand and Wrist Institute offers specialized care for sports injuries of the hand and upper extremity. Contact us now to learn more.

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Dr. John Knight
Dr. John Knight

Dr. Knight is a renowned hand, wrist and upper extremity surgeon with over 25 years of experience. Dr. Knight is a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon and Fellowship trained. Dr Knight has appeared on CNN, The Doctors TV, Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Oxygen network and more.