By Tracy Zaslow, MD / Children’s Hospital Los Angeles
Playing sports is a great way for children to develop confidence and self-discipline, improve physical fitness and coordination, and learn teamwork and good sportsmanship. Among the many benefits of participation, however, lies an inherent risk of injury.
At Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, we want to encourage young athletes to participate in the sports they love while providing parents with some key tips to prevent injury.
Why are young athletes at greater risk for injury?
Injury is a concern for anyone participating in sports, but children have certain qualities that make them more susceptible to injury.
• Children are still growing. Their bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments are all growing, and they are still developing their strength, balance, and coordination.
• Children vary in size. It is important that young athletes are matched for sports according to their skill level and size. Older athletes tend to be bigger and stronger, generating more force in a collision. When kids of varying sizes play sports together, there may be higher incidence of injury.
• Children can injure growth plates. Growth plates are the areas of growing tissue at the ends of long bones, present only in children and adolescents. Injuries to these areas can disrupt normal growth and development of the bone.
Injury Prevention Tips
While each specific sport carries a different set of injury risks, there are some general guidelines aimed to help prevent sports-related injuries in your child.
• Have a pre-season physical examination. Your child should follow the doctor’s suggestions for safe play.
• Keep hydrated. Tell your child that waiting until you are thirsty is not adequate! (*)
• Maintain proper fitness. Young athletes who have not been prepared physically tend to have higher rates of injury.
• Yield to environmental conditions. Injuries are more likely when court or field conditions are poor. Also, be aware of the risk of heat illness, especially in excessively hot and humid weather. (**)
• Be cautious and patient when returning to play. After a period of inactivity, it is important to slowly and gradually progress back into sport. Your child should work back up to full participation using strength training and aerobic conditioning.
• Take time off! It is important to allow your child’s body to rest. Overuse injuries are common in young athletes and can be prevented by allowing some time for the body to recover. More is not always better, so avoid the tendency to over-train your child.
• Encourage participation in multiple sports. Avoid the pressure to push your child into sports specialization. This carries extra risk of overuse injury and hinders the development of a variety of skill sets.
The Specifics: Basketball & Soccer
With the fall athletic season in full swing, it is important to remember certain sport-specific tips and guidelines for safety.
• Basketball players should focus strength training on the ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders. Knee injuries are common in basketball, and often just a symptom of what is really happening at the hip and the ankle.(***)
• Soccer players should be trained in proper “heading” technique. Also, be sure to play with synthetic balls rather than leather ones, which can become waterlogged and heavy.
• Make sure your child uses proper gear. Well-fitting cleats and shin guards are essential to soccer safety. Basketball requires supportive shoes and, if appropriate, protective eyewear.
Playing sports should be fun!
Parents and trainers should focus on fostering an atmosphere of healthy competition. The major goal should be enjoyable participation, not only winning. Winning and losing are a part of life, so prepare your child to learn that winning is not the sole measure of success.
Tracy Zaslow, MD, is a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon with expertise in medical conditions affecting young athletes, including sports-related concussion, overuse injuries and injury prevention. She serves as the medical director of the Sports Medicine Program in the Children’s Orthopaedic Center (COC) at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She also keeps office hours in Santa Monica at the Children’s Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Program, 2020 Santa Monica Blvd., Ste. 400. For appointments call 310.315.2041.