It is estimated that as many as 1.5 million kids ended up in the ER with sports injuries during the 2012 -2013 year. That’s a lot of injuries and a lot of worried and frantic parents. Many kids today play sports for school as well as a way to get exercise and stay healthy. But are sports really a good choice for kids today? Which are the most dangerous sports today? And what can be done to reduce injury and keep young athletes safe?
Bumps and Bruises by the Numbers
- Football is the most dangerous sport played by kids under the age of 19 and accounts for more emergency room visits among U.S. athletes than any other. The totals were 394,350 ER visits in 2012. Football is closely followed in order by basketball, soccer, and baseball.
- The body parts that are most commonly injured while playing sports are the ankle, head, shoulder, finger, knee, toe, and face.
- Strains and sprains account for more than 450,000 injuries annually. Next are broken bones, dislocations, bruises, scrapes, fractures, and concussions.
The best way to avoid an ER visit is to make sure you are training properly and that you are taking measures to avoid injury and to be prepared before any game gets started. Education is key- when you know what could happen and are educated about what can go wrong while playing sports you can better prepare and protect against injuries. Education is important and that is what our goal is here with this overview:
A concussion is defined as a hard blow to the head that can damage the brain in some way that ends up affecting the way the brain works. It is the most common example of a class of brain injuries known as traumatic brain injury. According to reported from the CDC and other sports clinics, football accounts for more than 60,000 concussions, which is more than basketball and soccer combined, with more than half of the victims being between the ages of 12 and 15.
Symptoms of a concussion can include:
- Slurred speech
- Loss of balance
- Loss of memory
- Mood changes
If any young athlete shows any of these symptoms after playing any sort of contact sport or after hitting their head, seek medical attention right away. Concussions are serious business. Kids who go to the emergency room with sports-related concussions are about twice as likely to be hospitalized as those with non-concussion injuries. Left untreated, a concussion can lead to permanent brain damage and repeat concussions will build on previous injury and cause even more traumatic injury to the brain over time. Any blow to the head or signs of a concussion must be quickly addressed by a medical professional.
This is a type of sports related injury that was not seen as prevalent among youth a decade or so ago but is now on the rise. One reason for this is that more kids today either want to or are feeling pressured into playing the same sport all year round in order to be the best at it that they can be. When a ten-year-old plays soccer all year round, the chances of an overuse injury rises drastically, and this is the case for any sport in any age group. Doing the same thing and using the same muscles and body parts too much can lead to stress and overuse injury. Just as factory workers will develop injuries in their hands or shoulder that they use all day every day, children can experience similar injuries when they throw, kick, or hit using the same body parts all year long.
The best way to avoid this kind of injury is prevention:
- Mix up the sports and play a different sport each season.
- Use your muscles in different ways, use different moves, and stay limber.
- For year-round players, check-ups and physical therapy may be needed more often.
Other Common child sports Injuries
While concussions and overuse injuries are the most common seen in youth sports today they are not the only injury you need to be aware of and that you should be prepared for:
Dislocations – Shoulder
A dislocated shoulder typically occurs when the arm is held straight out to the side and then with a heavy blow or impact, is suddenly forced backward. If the shoulder looks misshapen nor uneven compared to the other shoulder then it may be dislocated. The athlete often will say they feel or hear a pop as the shoulder pops out of the socket and they generally will be in a lot of pain. A dislocated shoulder should be put back in place only by a trained health care professional such as a medic, ER team, or a doctor who has been trained to do this. Because young athletes’ shoulder joints are naturally looser than older athletes’, they are more prone to these injuries. This also means that putting the shoulder back in alignment incorrectly can lead to damage that can worsen as the child continues to grow. If your child suffers a dislocated shoulder he or she may need some physical therapy to help strengthen the shoulder and back muscles so that it does not happen again.
Anterior cruciate ligament tears
This type of injury is commonly known as an ACL tears and they are one of the most serious knee injuries that can happen. They generally are caused by an impact from a hard object such as sliding into a wall or crashing into another player. And ACL tear can also happen with a sudden movement such as jumping and landing oddly on the knee or twisting the knee joint too sharply or suddenly. An athlete who has torn the ACL usually feels or hears a pop in the knee and most often are unable to continue their activity. They will likely be unable to put any weight on the leg and may not be able to move the knee. There often is severe swelling involved and a great deal of pain. Because the knee is one of the major weight-bearing joints of the body, it is important to have an ACL injury taken care of right away. A trained physician can often determine that the ACL has been torn simply by physical examination. The general treatment is surgery to repair the ligament and even with a full recovery the knee will never be as strong as before the injury and will always be more prone to further injury of some kind.
Most athletes, especially children, who end up dehydrated while playing are simply not drinking enough. Other factors that can lead to dehydration include exercising in the heat if they are not used to it, wearing too much gear, not taking enough breaks, or playing and workout while sick or after recently being sick. Extreme thirst, headache, nausea, abdominal pain and muscle cramping are common signs of dehydration. If an athlete suffers from dehydration, they should stop exercising and drink plenty of water. It is important to note however that it is possible to overhydrate which can also be dangerous. The best way to stave off dehydration as well as avoid overhydration is to have water and sports drinks available and encourage drinking but do not force a child to drink if they say they are not thirsty. Most kids will drink when they are thirsty.
Hand or wrist
Fractures of the wrist most often end up happening during a fall on the outstretched hand. It is instinct to reach out to try and catch yourself with your hand when you fall but the impact of 50+ pounds falling on the hand can lead to hand and wrist injury. If swelling at the wrist and pain with movement of the wrist occur, there is likely a sprain or fracture. An x-ray is typically needed to tell whether the wrist is broken. Other injuries can occur that can affect the tendons and nerves in the hand and wrist that can cause problems down the road as the body grows and joints stiffen into place and become less flexible. Tendonitis in teens can often be traced back to sports injuries. Young athletes can also end up damaging the growth plates at the wrist, the area responsible of new bone and cartilage growth as the body grows bigger, which may result in the bone not growing normally. This is why braces are often worn and why and pain or stiffness in the hand or wrist following a fall or other hard impact needs to be checked out by a sports doctor to ensure more serious damage has not been done.
Turf toe is a sport related injury that involves a hyperextension of the big toe, and it is an injury that many do not think about. However, it can be common, especially among teens and pre-teens. This injury usually happens when the athlete pushes off forcefully with forward momentum- like pushing off for a race or for the snap of the ball in football. This injury can happen after one bad push-off or may happen after repeated push-offs cause minor damage that builds to the point an injury occurs. If turf toe occurs, there could be mild swelling but usually pain when moving the toe is the main sign that the toe has been injured. In order for the joint to heal, no hard impacts or pushing off can be done and the toe needs to be kept as immobile as possible until the pain subsides. A sports physician or podiatrist may also recommend a stiff shoe or a special shoe insert to keep the toe from bending up. Usually this injury is not seen in very young athletes because their bones and joints are still very limber and loose so the injury is less common, thankfully.
The meniscus, the name given to the c-shaped piece of spongy cartilage located in the knee that serves as a shock-absorber, is usually torn with a twisting injury of the knee. Any sudden tweak of the knee or moving the knee in an unnatural direction, particularly with any amount of force, can lead to this injury. The athlete often feels or hears a pop when the joint is pulled and the cartridge tears and pulls away from the knee joint. Pain when straightening or bending the knee fully, painful popping and swelling are signs of a meniscus tear. This injury often requires surgery and it is a bad enough injury that in older athletes it can put an end to a sports career. Thankfully, minor meniscus tears in young people under the age of 13 can often heal with rest and not stressing the knee. Once the meniscus heals or the surgery has been done it will take time to get back into the game and intense physical therapy and a knee brace of some kind will likely be needed in order to continue playing.
Many athletes can injure their shoulder and there are several injuries that can affect the joint, tendons, muscles, and bones. Impact injuries can lead to bone and joint injury and over use or miss use can cause muscle and joint injuries as well. If an athlete is exhibiting pain with normal athletic activities, particularly any motion that pulls the arm up over the head in an over hand motion, then an injury may be present. If the shoulder is injured, rest from any and all activities that cause pain is essential for proper healing and to avoid reinjury or worsening an existing injury. Recovery time could be weeks or months depending on the type of injury and the severity of the injury. Strengthening the rotator cuff muscles and the muscles that move the shoulder blade with physical therapy can speed healing and help avoid repeat injuries. Any suspected injury to the shoulder needs to be checked out right away to avoid serious injury.
The Root of the Problem
Physical activity is necessary and is vital for the health of our children as well as for normal growth and physical development. However, when the activity level becomes too intense or too excessive or a child does more than his or her body is ready for, injury can occur. These kinds of injuries were frequently seen among the adult athletes, but we are now seeing more and more sports related injuries in children that go beyond a scrapped knee, bruised arm, or sprained ankle. The single biggest factor contributing to the dramatic increase in overuse injuries in young athletes is the focus on more intense, repetitive and specialized training at much younger ages.