How to prevent injuries in youth sports

August 17, 2022 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

Young athletes need special attention and care when participating in sports. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, up to 45 million children and teens participate in some type of organized sport. With these astounding numbers, injuries become par for the course and game-time pressures rise.

Besides minor sprains and strains, ACL injuries, elbow overuse and Achilles injuries occur frequently with young athletes. How can they prevent injuries and stay in the game?

In a recent Health 360 with Dr. G podcast episode, Mark Gomez, M.D., a board-certified internal medicine physician with Edward-Elmhurst Health, and his guests discuss the best ways to keep young athletes balanced, healthy and injury free.

Here’s a preview of what you’ll hear in the episode:

Is it OK for a growing child to train year-round?

Elite child athletes who want to remain competitive can’t take time off from training. And year-round training has some benefits: it keeps kids active and helps them develop perseverance and dedication to their activity.

To avoid overtraining, find a coach who plans out a varied training program. Incorporate exercises that develop other parts of the young athlete’s body. Strengthen joints as well as muscles.

How can parents determine when their child needs medical attention versus treating an injury with rest and ice?

The key is to watch for pain or a complaint that is out of the ordinary. If a child isn’t able to walk, obviously they likely need medical attention. But if it isn’t clear, take some time to rest and ice it. Parents: You know your kid. If an unusual injury or pain persists, it may be best to get it looked at.

Generally speaking, playing through pain isn’t recommended. That said, there are varying levels of pain and injury. Getting knocked around in a football game can hurt, but not as badly as a serious injury that limits movement. Removing an injured athlete from a game for a short time to evaluate the injury can help coaches, parents and players decide on the best course of action.

How do you help a child cope if an injury forces them to stop playing?

ACL injuries and Achilles injuries that require extensive rehabilitation can weigh heavily on a child’s psyche. Sports are a large part of a kid’s identity and teammates often become close friends. Sports are also an escape — an activity kids (and adults) use to balance their mental health. When an injury derails that activity, it can cause more than just physical pain.

Try to incorporate other activities your child enjoys, such as reading, art or family time, so they have activities to look forward to that give them purpose.

Pushing kids to get back to playing before they’re fully healed isn’t always a good idea, it depends on the injury.

“Playing through pain” is frequently encouraged, especially in middle and high school, but it can make an injury worse. Even though an athlete doesn’t want to let their team down and likely feels frustration over sitting out — and parents often don’t want their child to miss out — jumping back in too soon could be detrimental to their future athletic goals.

Young athletes have a better chance of coming back from an injury if they have the correct mental mindset and have gone through rehabilitation that included movements that are more difficult than that they will encounter in the field of play.

Get additional tips and information on youth sports injury prevention in Episode 46 of the Health 360 with Dr. G podcast, “Youth sports — Injury prevention, game-time pressures and more.” Episode 46 is available now at health360podcast.com!

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