Fall Back into Team Sports

Children are back in school which means many of them are back to investing time and energy into organized sports, such as football, cheerleading, basketball, volleyball and gymnastics.
Sports can be a great way for young people to get the exercise they need, while also developing social skills and having fun. As children’s bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons are still growing, they are more susceptible to injury than adults. Parents and coaches should always be on alert to ensure that kid’s sports involvement does not do more harm than good.
2007 statistics from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission underscore the extent of this problem:

  • Football is the leading cause of fall sports injuries in young people age 18 and under -- sending 920,126 of them to hospital emergency rooms, doctors’ offices and clinics.
  • Basketball is next on the list with 745,371 injuries to that same age group.
  • Other Fall sports include volleyball with 97,603 injuries, cheerleading with 69,783, gymnastics with 69,366, and field hockey with 10,570.

As orthopaedic specialists who commonly treat sports injuries, we offer the following strategies for parents and coaches to help young athletes prevent back to school sports injuries:

  • School districts require each student-athlete undergo a pre-season physical to determine their readiness to play and uncover any condition that may limit participation. Many schools also require that each athlete take baseline concussion testing.If the athlete sustains a concussion, this test is compared to a post-concussion test, to determine if it is safe for the athlete to return to competition. This is extremely important. If an athlete returns to their sport before they have completely recovered from a concussion, a second concussion, even much less severe, could result in “secondary concussion syndrome”, a potentially fatal complication.
  • Have your child always warm up and stretch before participating in a sport, particularly when the weather is cold. Athletes should warm up with some light exercise for at least 3 to 5 minutes, then slowly and gently stretch the muscles to be exercised, holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds.
  • Have kids take frequent water breaks to prevent dehydration and overheating.
  • Ensure a first aid kit is available at all times. Supplies should include: athletic tape, bandages, ice packs and antiseptic ointment are some things it should include.

Learn to recognize early signs of pain and discomfort in children, and teach children to be aware of those signs as well. Let them know they should notify their coach or parent as soon as they experience any pain.
If an athlete gets injured, be familiar with the R.I.C.E method:

  • Rest or immobilize the injured body part.
  • Ice the injured area. Do not apply ice directly on the skin, a cold pack is preferred.
  • Compression or elastic wrap should be applied to help prevent or decrease swelling.
  • Elevation of the injured body area above the level of the heart to decrease swelling.

If an injury occurs, a physician familiar with sports medicine should clear the athlete before letting the child return to play that sport.
Other important tips:

  • Develop open communication and communicate regularly with your child’s coach.
  • Make sure a coach with the appropriate training heads your child’s program.
  • Check to make sure equipment is adequately maintained and used properly. Protective equipment such as padding, headgear, mouth guards and cups, must fit properly and their use must be strictly enforced. This equipment is important and protects the athlete from injury.
  • Youth sports should always be fun. A “win at all costs” attitude can lead to injuries, because a young athlete striving to meet the unrealistic expectations of others may ignore the warning signs of injury and continue to play with pain. Support from parents and coaches, whether young athletes win or lose, can be their greatest protection.

Jan Idzikowski is a Physician Assistant with Vail-Summit Orthopaedics. He has over 30 years experience in orthopaedics, sports medicine and hand surgery.