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Injury Prevention for the Child
Athlete


by Andrew Cannon MHS,PT

Director of Sports Medicine
Northeast Rehabilitation Health
Network


Why should injury prevention during
athletic activity for kids be any different than for adults? We know
that adults need to stretch, strengthen, eat right and stay hydrated
to minimize injury. Aren’t kids just small adults, so the same rules
apply? Contrary to what many of us think, children are not just small
adults. The changes that go on within a child’s body from childhood
through high school are complex and fascinating. A child height will
increase by up to 50% from age 6 to 18, while their weight can more
than triple. During puberty ( the early teen years), growth and
development speed up and can leave the young athlete’s body
vulnerable. Weaknesses become evident in the muscles and bones which
must be addressed to avoid acute injuries, both traumatic like broken
bones and overuse, thought of as wear and tear injuries like tendonitis. After the age of 6, sports injuries account for 24% of all
injuries to young individuals. In contact sports such as football and
soccer traumatic injuries such as broken bones account for
approximately 5% of all injuries. We know that our children are
grouped together by age for sports but the variability in size, speed
and strength of kids the same age predispose many to injury .


This may lead many to believe that
participation of your young kids in sports should be avoided due to
the risk of injury. A study on the training of young athletes suggests
that the injury rate for children in organized physical activity is
actually very low (1 injury for every 1000 hours of training). There
are also many beneficial effects to organized sport and physical
activity for the child athlete. These include increased cardiovascular
endurance, muscular strength, coordination and your child’s self
esteem.


What then do you as a parent do to
allow your child participate in sports to gain the benefits and not
the injuries? The wear and tear or overuse type injuries can best be
prevented by the following. Slow increases in the intensity or
duration of exercise allows your child to get use to the physical
strains. Proper footwear, (not necessarily a different sneaker for
every sport, but a just a good, not beat up sneaker), helps absorb
shock and keep your son or daughter’s legs in a good position. Proper
stretching gives their young muscles and joints the slack they need to
absorb stress. There are many young athlete injuries that are directly
a result of muscle tightness during growth spurts.


General injury prevention
considerations for your children involved in sports are those habits
that overall contribute to a healthy child. Drinking enough water or
sport drink before ,during and after activity, especially in the warm
months outdoors and all months indoors is critical. Because children’s
weight and size proportions are different than adults they are less
effective at cooling themselves during exertion therefore become
dehydrated quicker. Thirst is a too late indicator of needing fluids.
Water is still the fluid of choice for the young athlete.


Finally, the biggest thing that parent
can do to prevent sports related injuries in their son or daughter
that they are kids. Do not allow organized team sports to eliminate
free play time or exercising with a family member. This allows your
children to understand and value physical activity. All involved need
to remember that participation in youth sports is still "play"
not a job, a requirement or an expectation.