The Full Guide to Preventing Sports Injuries in Kids

The NIH periodically updates some of its most-referenced documents on pediatric prevention and care. This page is widely considered the gold standard in vetted and conservative recommendations for young athletes.

A quick glance at the page reveals its value: summary overviews of several injury types which are common to young people, including growth plate injuries, sprains, broken bones, and repetitive motion. Several of these are especially likely to strike three-season athletes or anyone focused on a single high-level sport to the exclusion of other activities.

The page also makes a clear distinction between minor bruises which can benefit from RICE therapy, and more serious injuries that require the intervention of a pediatric orthopedist such as myself:

Get professional treatment if any injury is severe. A severe injury means having an obvious fracture or dislocation of a joint, prolonged swelling, or prolonged or severe pain.

Kids know their own bodies best, but they aren’t always the best sources for candid information about pain. Try your best to open an honest dialogue about what hurts and how much, and you can prevent minor issues from blossoming into chronic conditions as your child enters adolescence and beyond.

The Overuse Epidemic of Sports Injuries in Kids

I have written about this before: many sports injuries in young people could be prevented by providing more reasonable timelines for rest, and creating longer offseasons. We could also help kids avoid injury by reducing the emphasis on single sport specialization, and dialing back the pressure overall.

It seems I am not alone. The American Medical Society of Sports Medicine recently issued a statement on the same problem, citing one member with a commonsense prescription:

“More and more kids are having adult-type surgeries,” she said, some from overuse or repetitive injuries. That kind of surgery, that was preventable. That didn’t have to happen. They throw too hard, too fast and they pitch through the pain…The risks of playing year-round are not only injuries, but burnout and getting sick of what they’re doing,” Bergeson said.

What’s the answer? Rest more. Relax more. Be a kid more. You can train hard when it’s time, but be sure and “clock out” enough to give your body time to recover, heal, and grow.

Ironically, too many injuries from overuse in a person’s early years can eliminate any chance of participating on a professional level in adulthood. So play the long game. And stop playing so much.

A Pediatric Orthopedist Lists the Most Common Sports Injuries in Kids

Kids who play sports subject their bodies to a number of bangs and stresses which were usually designed for adult athletes to endure. This gap, between the biomechanics of sports and the bodies that perform them, can lead to musculoskeletal injuries in young people that are far less common in adults.

Below I have listed some of the major categories of sports injuries to watch out for.

Repetitive Motion Injuries

Repetitive motion is just what it sounds like: something you do over and over in roughly the same way. Many sports require repetitive motions such as pitching, swinging a tennis racket, or kicking a ball, and the stresses introduced by these motions can accumulate over time, leading to bone spurs, strained muscles, and damaged cartilage.

Injuries to the Growth Plate

The primary difference between a child’s bones and an adult’s bones is that the child’s bones are still growing. Breaks and sprains are painful but rarely permanent, but injuries to the growth plates which regulate the lengthening of your child’s bones can be serious. Long bones which are still extending can be stopped in their tracks, requiring an intervention from a pediatric orthopedic surgeon.

Heat and Exhaustion

Many young athletes push themselves beyond what is appropriate or tolerable, especially as the weight of competition begins to make itself known. Frequent rest, hydration and cooling periods are essential, especially if your kid is engaged in a sport with full-body equipment or summer hours.

What causes all these injuries? Focused activity and poor training, mostly, but this list offers a good rubric for parents and coaches who want to eliminate all of the other potential risks first:

  • Sport specialization at a young age
  • Imbalance of strength or joint range of motion
  • Anatomic malalignment
  • Improper footwear
  • Pre-existing condition
  • Growth cartilage less resistant to repetitive microtrauma
  • Intense, repetitive training during periods of growth

For the best pediatric orthopedist in San Diego, just reach out to AOSM anytime.