Parents’ concerns should not end after problem is treated
Each year more than 775,000 U.S. children under the age of 15 are treated in hospital emergency departments for sports-related injuries. However, parents’ concerns should not end when the injury is treated, because each injury increases the likelihood of osteoarthritis later in life.
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common types of arthritis, and it develops after the cartilage that cushions a joint is worn away. The lack of cartilage causes the joint’s bones to meet and grind together, resulting in pain and stiffness. According to one study, a single knee injury early in life can put a person at five times the risk for osteoarthritis in adulthood; a hip injury could more than triple the risk.
Arthritis is the No. 1 cause of disability in the country, affecting 70 million people. It can begin to affect people in their 30s and 40s. Arthritis causes pain, stiffness and sometimes swelling in or around joints, making it difficult to perform basic movements. Physicians and scientists have not found causes for most types of arthritis, but early prevention can help ensure that kids who play sports will not suffer from the disease.
The Arthritis Foundation has developed the following tips for parents of children who play sports.
Before the Game
Make sure kids are ready to play sports. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children start playing sports at no younger than 6 years of age for mental, emotional and physical reasons. First, most children younger than 6 do not understand the concept and rules of team play and may not have the emotional development and eagerness to play. Second, children younger than 6 years old may not have the physical ability to perform skills asked of them in team sports. Parents should trust their instincts and consult a physician before allowing their children to play sports.
Pick wisely. Enroll children in organized sports through organizations where adults are trained in the prevention, recognition and immediate care of athletic injuries.
Take it easy. Ease into any new recreation such as hockey, skateboarding or playground activity to give the body time to strengthen and adapt.
Put the child in charge. Let children pick the styles and colors of protective gear. They’re more likely to use items they like.
Be a nag. Parents should constantly remind children of safety rules.
During the Game
Check safety equipment. Protective equipment should be age appropriate and fit correctly. Worn items should be replaced. For example, running sneakers should be replaced every 250 to 500 miles.
Teach children not to play through pain. Playing through pain could worsen injuries.
Make sure help is handy. Parents should check to see if first aid is available at all games and practices.
Talk to and watch the coach. Coaches should enforce all the rules of the game, encourage safe play and understand the special injury risks that young players face.
Warm up and stretch. Warm-up and cool-down exercises, such as stretching and light jogging, can help minimize the chance of muscle strain or other soft tissue injuries during sports.
After the Game
Cool down. Cool-down exercises after play will loosen muscles that have tightened during the game.
Let injuries heal completely. Minimize long-term damage by allowing the affected area to heal completely before participating in the sport again.
Don’t rush. Ease children back into a routine if they have been inactive for a long period of time. After a long summer break, children should begin exercising at home before their sport officially begins. The same holds true for other recreational activities, such as biking or jogging.
Even if parents take these precautions, their children still can suffer injuries while playing sports. If children are injured playing sports, the Arthritis Foundation recommends they follow the RICE formula — four key steps to reducing pain, swelling and possibly long-term complications. Severe injuries, such as obvious fractures and dislocated joints, or swelling and/or severe pain require professional medical care.
Rest. Reduce or stop using the injured area for 48 hours.
Ice. Apply a cold pack, ice bag or a plastic bag filled with crushed ice on the injured area for 20 minutes at a time, four to eight times a day.
Compression. Compression of an injured ankle, knee or wrist may help reduce swelling. Use elastic wraps, special boots, air casts or splints. Ask a physician which is best.
Elevate. Keep the injured area elevated above the level of the heart.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, parents should ensure their children use the following equipment when participating in football, basketball, soccer, baseball and softball, track and field, and gymnastics. For information about protective equipment for other sports, parents should contact a physician.
Football causes more injuries, especially in boys, than any other organized sport.
Common injuries and locations: Bruises; sprains; strains; pulled muscles; soft tissue tears, such as ligaments; broken bones; internal injuries, including bruised or damaged organs; back injuries; and sunburn. Knees and ankles are the most common injury sites.
Suggested protective equipment: Helmet; mouth guard; shoulder pads; athletic supporters for males; chest/rib pads; forearm, elbow and thigh pads; shin guards; proper shoes; sunscreen; and water.
Prevention: Proper use of safety equipment, warm-up exercises, proper coaching and conditioning.
Among girls, basketball has the highest rate of knee injuries requiring surgery.
Common injuries and locations: Sprains, strains, bruises, fractures, scrapes, dislocations, cuts and dental injuries. Most injuries occur in the ankles, knees and shoulders.
Suggested protective equipment: Eye protection, elbow and kneepads, mouth guard, athletic supporters for boys, proper shoes and water. If playing outdoors, children also should wear a hat and sunscreen.
Prevention: Strength training, particularly for the knees and shoulders; aerobics, or exercises that develop the strength and endurance of heart and lungs; warm-up exercises; proper coaching; and use of safety equipment.
Common injuries: Bruises, cuts, scrapes, headaches and sunburn.
Suggested protective equipment: Shin guards, athletic supporters for boys, cleats, sunscreen and water.
Prevention: Aerobic conditioning and warm-ups, as well as proper training in “heading” the ball.
Baseball and Softball
Common injuries: Soft tissue strains; impact injuries, including fractures resulting from sliding and being hit by a ball; and sunburn.
Suggested protective equipment: Batting helmet, shin guards, elbow guards, athletic supporters for boys, mouth guard, sunscreen, cleats, hat and breakaway bases.
Prevention: Proper conditioning and warm-up exercises.
Common injuries: Soft tissue sprains and strains.
Suggested protective equipment: Athletic supporters for boys; safety harness; joint supports, such as neoprene wraps; and water.
Prevention: Proper conditioning and warm-up exercises.
Track and Field (running, walking, jumping, throwing or pushing events)
Common injuries: Strains, sprains and scrapes from falls.
Suggested protective equipment: Proper shoes, athletic supporters for boys, sunscreen and water.
Prevention: Proper conditioning and coaching.