How to Keep Young Athletes Safe While Playing Sports

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Nonprofit advocacy group Safe Kids Worldwide, an affiliate of Children’s National Health System, recently released a study of youth sports injuries.The group surveyed 1,000 young athletes, 1,005 coaches, and 1,000 parents, finding that 90 percent of the athletes reported being hurt while playing a sport. While most of the reported injuries were minor such as bumps and bruises, 37 percent of the injuries involved sprains or strains, 24 percent dehydration, 13 percent broken bones, 12 percent concussions or head injuries, and 4 percent a torn ligament injury, according to the report.

Founded in 1988, Safe Kids Worldwide is a global network of organizations dedicated to preventing unintentional injury.

With sports starting up for schools across the country, fall is a good time to get the word out about sports safety. Suzanne Jaffe Walters, MD, a Children’s National orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine, discussed sports-related injuries and the culture of youth sports.

Dr. Walters said the most common injuries (acute and overuse) she treats include anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, tears; meniscus tear, a common knee injury; shoulder dislocations; ankle sprains; and Osgood-Schlatter disease, an inflammation of the bumpy part of the upper shinbone called the anterior tibial tubercle.

Citing the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Dr. Walters offered the following tips for engaging in sports:
  • Be physically fit 
  • Know and abide by the rules of the sport
  • Wear appropriate protective gear
  • Know how to correctly use athletic equipment
  • Warm up before playing 
  • Stay hydrated
  • Avoid playing when very tired or in pain
Dr. Walters noted that some young athletes continue to play even if they’re hurt because they do not want to feel humiliated if they leave the game, and also desire to keep up with their teammates. Additionally, she said they’re afraid that stepping away from the game adversely affects their position on the team, or that they’re letting down the coach and their parents.

“Also, a lot of kids are having fun and don’t want to stop,” she said, adding that what drives many to stay in the game is “a desire to win.”

“If you start to feel fatigue and you’re starting to have pain and it’s not going away, you need to take yourself out of the game,” she said.

With injury prevention, it is important to have parents, coaches, and players all aware of every athlete’s individual limits and make sure that no one is surpassing that through extra-long gameplay and practice while hurt.

She also cautioned against young athletes about playing against children who are older or bigger than they are. Often, that is “when smaller players tend to get hurt,” she said, adding that “playing peers of similar size and similar skill levels” the athlete is “less likely to be injured.”

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