Children suffering from sports-related injuries – and those due to other physically challenging activities, like dance – are more common than you might think. Safe Kids USA reports that more than three million children under the age of 14 are treated annually for sports-related injuries, with the most common issues being sprains, muscle strains, bone or growth plate injuries, repetitive motion injuries and heat-related illnesses. And those in the midst of growth spurts – typically boys ages 12-16 and girls 10-14 – have a higher propensity for getting hurt. Then there’s the concussion worry, a hot topic that’s gained nationwide attention in both professional and amateur sports worlds.
Trust Your Instincts
If a child is holding a limb at an odd angle or can’t move it without pain, see a doctor or visit an emergency room right away. Disorientation, memory loss, nausea, vomiting and slurred speech are other serious signals that demand immediate medical attention. If the signs are subtle – such as a black-and-blue elbow or slight headache – you can probably wait and see what happens over the next 24-48 hours.
Injuries basically come in two camps: minor – requiring a few minutes of rest, ice and consolation – and severe, where the child suffers loss of consciousness; has a limb that appears deformed; and is overall not acting “right.” It’s not always easy to tell the difference right away, which is when a parent’s intuition and astute observation come into play. So pay close attention to your child’s reaction to the injury. For example, if they’re crying, whining or fussing more than they normally would with a scrape or scratch, additional surveillance and a medical evaluation might be warranted.
Keep on Top of Head Injuries
If you suspect even the slightest head trauma, have your child checked out by a health care professional immediately.
A concussion, the most common type of brain injury, is defined as a temporary disruption of brain function. It can be caused by a direct strike to the head; violent shaking of the head; or a whiplash-type injury. And while helmets decrease the risk, they do not 100 percent prevent them.
Early symptoms of concussions include headaches, dizziness, a lack of awareness of surroundings, nausea and vomiting. These can be seen minutes to hours after the injury. With or without the initial symptoms, a child can develop mood and cognitive disturbances, light and noise sensitivity, and sleep disturbances.
Scary as that sounds, not every blow, knock, fall or baseball to the head causes a concussion. Most kids bang their heads or get hit without any significant injury. Usually, you can tell when something’s not right. And if you’re still unsure? Go to the doctor. The worst-case scenario is that you spent time having your child examined to find out nothing is wrong.
A sprain or bruise is another one of those “watch and see” circumstances typical of all athletics, including dance and track, unless it’s obviously severe. Again, take note of your child: Do they have a fever? Is the area swollen? What is their reaction? If the pain doesn’t subside in a few days or they can’t bear weight or pressure on the injured area, have it checked out; an X-ray is the only way to get a definitive assessment.
With an increase in kids taking part in physically challenging activities – and at younger ages – repetitive injuries are becoming more prevalent. In baseball, for example, typical injury patterns occur with shoulders and elbows, while in basketball it’s the knees, in particular Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) issues.
As a preventative measure, have your child pretrain and do appropriate stretching exercises prior to the season to help strengthen their muscles. And, of course, always make sure they’re wearing the proper gear.