Kids and Sports Injuries

Sports injuries are the second leading cause of emergency room visits for children and adolescents

Written by Brooke Kittel

Participation in youth sports is at an all-time high in the United States. The proliferation of club-type teams has opened the sporting arena to a much wider circle of kids than ever before.    According to a 2012 survey by Sports Marketing Surveys, about 27.4 million kids, ages 6 to 17, play sports in some form or another. Of that group, 15.7 million play sports on at least a regular or frequent basis. While this is good news from a fitness perspective, it has proven to be bad news when it comes to the number of sports-related injuries amongst youth.

Sports injuries are the second leading cause of emergency room visits for children and adolescents, and the second leading cause of injuries in school. In 2012, approximately 1.35 million youth were seen in hospital emergency rooms for sports-related injuries according to Safe Kids Worldwide.  The sports that produced the most injuries were football, basketball and soccer. The most commonly afflicted areas of the body were the ankle (15%), head (14%), fingers (12%), knees (9%) and face (7%).  Injuries ranged from muscle strains, sprains, repetitive motion injuries, concussions, bone or growth plate injuries and heat-related illnesses.

Kids aren’t necessarily playing a wide array of sports anymore. Instead they are specializing in a specific sport at a young age. Specific sports focus on specific repetitive movements (i.e., basketball and volleyball require a lot of jumping and lateral movements).  An over-abundance of specific movements can cause overuse injuries and affect growth cartilage that is less resistant to repetitive trauma. Additionally, kids mature at varying rates.  Oftentimes, there can be a dramatic difference in height and weight between kids of the same age.  This disparity can be a recipe for injury. This is particularly true for younger kids who often have less coordination and slower reaction times than adults. 

It is interesting to note that while the overall injury rate is higher amongst boys, girls’ sports injuries are rapidly on the rise. As girls move into their pre-teen and teen years, they begin to produce estrogen.  Estrogen makes ligaments more lax which increases flexibility. It can also increase injury risk if not accompanied by sufficient muscle to stabilize joints.  Not surprisingly, girls are up to eight times more likely to suffer an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury than boys.

What can you do to minimize the injury risk for your young athlete?  

  1.  Avoid specializing in one sport before kids reach puberty. Encourage them to try a variety of sports. 
  2.  Limit a specific sport to 5 days per week if your child does specialize in one sport.
  3.  Obtain all the necessary protective gear for their sport
  4.  Ensure that your child’s coach is incorporating warm ups and cool downs at the beginning and end of each practice/game.
  5.  Encourage hydration before, during and after all practices/games.
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