The statistics are shocking — 3.5 million American children under age 14 receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year. Sixty-two percent of these injuries occur during practice and close to 50 percent are from overuse. What’s more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of these sports injuries in children are preventable.
“There are two types of sports injuries: traumatic and overuse,” says Dr. Bradford Stiles, a board-certified sports medicine specialist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “Traumatic injuries occur during a single episode and can lead to joint sprain, ligament tears or concussion. Overuse can result in stress fractures, chronic strain or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive head injuries, including concussions.”
Young athletes playing a contact sport like football or soccer are at greater risk for concussion, which can affect cognitive function, motor function, senses and emotions. In fact, the CDC reports close to 71 percent of ER visits for concussions occurring during sports are among kids ages 10 to 19.
“It is incredibly important to make sure everyone involved in organized youth athletics is educated on the risks, recognition and prevention of concussions,” says Dr. Stiles. “Treatment of concussion begins with recognizing the athlete has a concussion in the first place.”
Although most young athletes can fully recover from a concussion, it is very important that they follow the CDC’s recommended guidelines for returning to school and sports. A brain must be given adequate time to heal, and for some, this means a return to regular activities might be a gradual process over several days, weeks and even months.
Reducing risk of injury
Other injuries, such as strains, sprains and fractures, can also sideline young athletes. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following ways to reduce the risk of injury and keep kids playing:
- Take time off, at least one day each week and one month per year, to allow recovery from overuse and give athletes a mental break
- Wear the right gear, such as sport-specific pads, helmets, mouthpieces, protective cups and eyewear
- Strengthen muscles through regular conditioning
- Increase flexibility by stretching daily and after exercise
- Learn and use proper sports techniques
- Take breaks during play to reduce heat injury
- Play safe and abide by the rules
- Stop the activity if there is pain
- Stay hydrated
“Seventy percent of kids drop out of youth sports by age 13 due to sports-related injury or emotional stress caused by the pressure to win,” says Dr. Stiles. “This is unfortunate because youth sports offer a variety of long-term health, social and psychological benefits. It’s up to coaches, parents, sports officials and athletes to make sure they stay safe and have fun playing the sports they love.”