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Sports and Recreational Injuries and Prevention

Involvement in sports and recreational activities are important for children and teenagers. Exercise may reduce the chances of obesity or chronic diseases, such as diabetes, and a sport teaches sportsmanship and discipline. But any sport or recreational activity that your child participates in also carries the potential for injury.

How common are sports and recreational injuries in children?

Sports injuries are on the rise in U.S. children and teenagers.

  • According to SAFE KIDS USA, each year more than 3.5 million sports-related injuries requiring medical  treatment occur in children under age 14.
  • More than 775,000 children, ages 14 and under, are treated in hospital emergency rooms for sports-
    related injuries each year. Most of the injuries occurred as a result of falls, being struck by an object, collisions, and overexertion during unorganized or informal sports activities.
  • According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, basketball is the most popular team sport in high schools and the leading cause of all sports-related injuries.
  • Cheerleading-related injuries among 5 to 18-year-olds more than doubled between 1990 and 2002.

- the number of cheerleading participants 6 years of age and
older, however, increased by only 18 percent during that same
time period.

- 16,000 cheerleading injuries are reported each year
Recreational injuries

  • According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the greatest number of recreational injuries to children occurs while the child is riding a bicycle.
  • Children ages 14 and under are five times more likely to sustain injuries in a bicycle-related crash than any other age group.
  • Any child who rides without a bicycle helmet increases his/her risk of sustaining a head injury in a crash, and increases the risk of being involved in a fatal crash by 14 times.
  • Almost 27,000 children between the ages of 5 and 14 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for skateboarding-related injuries every year.

Which children are at higher risk for sports injuries?

Children are at greater risk than adults from sports and recreational injuries since they are unable to assess the risks involved and have less coordination, slower reaction times, and less accuracy.

Children develop at different rates, both physically and psychologically. A less developed child competing against a more mature child of the same age and weight is at a disadvantage and may be at a greater risk for injury.

Prior to the onset of puberty, the risk of sports-related injury between boys and girls is the same, as they are approximately the same size and weight.

During puberty, boys are injured more frequently and severely than girls.

Girls more commonly suffer from a torn knee ligament called the ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, common in any sport with a lot of twisting, jumping or pivoting — basketball, soccer, football, volleyball, skiing.
Girls tend to bend their knees more as they jump and land and girls typically have weaker hamstrings,
muscles at the back of the thigh that relieve stress on the ACL when the knee bends.

Children who are new to a sport or activity are at greater risk of a sports- or recreation-related injury.

Children who do not wear or use protective equipment are at a greater risk of sustaining sports-related injuries.

Can children get overuse injuries like adults do?

  • Overuse injuries usually occur over time with prolonged, repeated motion or impact, and yes, as
    more and more children and adolescents participate in the same sport year-round, many young athletes are developing overuse injuries.
  • Overuse is responsible for about half of the sports injuries that happen to middle school and high school students.
  • They can be more problematic in a child athlete because of the effect they may have on the childs bone growth.
  • Sports involving throwing typically cause overuse injuries to the shoulder and elbow, whereas running and jumping sports most often strain the leg from the knee to the ankle (“shin splints”) or the foot.
  • The forearm and hand are common sites for overuse injuries in sports that require gripping, such as gymnastics, golf and tennis.

Overuse injuries can be caused or aggravated by:

- inadequate warm-up
- excessive activity
- insufficient rest after an injury
- playing the same sport year-round or multiple sports during the same season
- improper technique (e.g., overextending on a pitch)
- unsuitable equipment
- growth spurts
- when a child is not accustomed to an activity and starts doing it regularly

How can sports and recreational injuries in children be treated?

  • Treatment of these injuries will vary based on the specific type of injury, the age of the child, and the severity of the injury.
  • In general, minor injuries such as scrapes and bruises can be managed at home with soap and water, Band-Aids, pain medication (Tylenol or Ibuprofen), and plenty of empathy.
  • For more serious injuries, including the possibility of an overuse injury, your child’s pediatrician or an ER doctor should evaluate your child.
  • Its important to get overuse injuries diagnosed and treated to prevent them from developing into larger chronic problems.

Click on any of the following injuries for specific treatments, including when to ice and when to heat an injury.

Sprains and strains
Head injury

How can sports and recreational injuries be prevented in children?

You may be able to help prevent your child from being injured by following some simple guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, and the National SAFE KIDS Campaign.

Physical checkup:
To make sure your child is physically fit to participate in a particular sport, take him or her to the doctor for a physical exam. These physicals can reveal your childs physical strengths and weaknesses, find out any special injury risks your child may have, and help determine which sports are appropriate.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children begin participating in team sports at age 6, when they better understand the concept of teamwork. However, some young children may not be ready physically or psychologically to take part in a team sport even at age 6.

With older children, you should decide if its OK for them to play based on their physical and emotional development and their eagerness to play.

Children who play a sport before theyre ready, or when they dont want to, are at increased risk of getting hurt.

A parent should base his/her decision on whether to allow the child to take part in a particular sport based on the following:
- age
- weight
- build
- physical and emotional development
- childs interest in the sport

Proper Preparation

To make sure that your child has fun and is at a lower risk for injury, make sure that your child knows how to play the sport before putting him or her out on the field.

Your child should be adequately prepared with warm-ups and stretch before playing, paying special attention to the muscles that will get the most use during play.

Maintenance of playing surfaces

Shock-absorbent surfaces (e.g., running track) lead to fewer injuries.
Check that playing fields are not full of holes or debris that might cause kids to fall or trip.

Use of Proper Equipment

Its important for your child to use the proper, approved equipment and safety gear that is the correct size and fits well. For example, helmets are essential when bicycle riding or skateboarding.

Your childs coach or a sporting goods expert should guide you on the appropriate protective equipment (e.g., pads, helmets) for each sport.

The safety gear worn by a child should fit properly.

Sports equipment should be in good working condition and any damage should be repaired or replaced.

Wear athletic shoes that fit well and are in good condition.

Adequate adult supervision

Any team sport or activity that your child participates in should be supervised by responsible and qualified adults.

The team coach should have training in first aid and CPR.

First aid should be available at all practices and games.

The coachs philosophy should support players safety.

The coach should enforce playing rules, encourage safe play, and require that safety equipment be used at all times.

Avoid dehydration

Stay well hydrated by drinking enough water or sports drinks before, during and after each practice or game.

Drink small amounts frequently (i.e. 1 cup every 15-20 minutes) to avoid stomach cramps

Dehydration can cause exhaustion and increase the chance of injury. Click on dehydration for the signs and symptoms

Other ways to prevent overuse injuries

Teach your child not to play through pain. If your child gets injured, see your pediatrician.

Take time to recover properly and only return to play if OK’d by your doctor.

Start your child out slowly with any new physical activity and gradually increase their training program or activity.