How to prevent and treat sports injuries in children?

Sports is an integral aspect of childhood, as it contributes greatly to the physical development and mental growth of children throughout their growing years. While it is vital for children to stay active with outdoor physical activities, it is equally important to make sure they are protected from injuries.

Studies done by the CDC have indicated that injuries are the leading cause of ER visits among children between 12 and 17 years of age.

It is essential to learn how to recognise common types of injuries, understand the importance of proper warm-up routines and treatments to ensure our children’s safety while playing.

What are the common sports injuries in children?

Most sports injuries in children can be broadly classified into:

  1. Overuse injuries

    These injuries occur when the child performs the same activity repeatedly. This may result in inflammation and pain in the affected areas, causing injuries. In children, overuse injuries usually fall into one out of these four categories:

    • Joint problems
    • Tendinitis and traction apophysitis of tendon insertions
    • Stress fractures
    • Bursitis
  2. Acute injuries

    These include fractures, sprains, dislocations, bruises, and strains and are usually a result of traumas or sudden impact accidents. Following are some examples:

    • Concussions: This happens when the brain undergoes trauma. Some of the symptoms include memory loss, headache, confusion, etc.
    • Ankle sprains: They can occur when the ligaments supporting the ankles get torn or stretched.
    • Groin strains: These can happen in specific sports when the muscles in the inner thighs get torn.
    • Contusions: These are cases where the blood vessels under the skin get damaged.
    • Fractures: In children, fractures commonly occur in wrists, arms, and legs.
    • Dislocations: Dislocation may occur in high-intensity sports when a sudden impact causes a joint bone of alignment.
  3. Reinjuries

    These are injuries that happen in the same place where a prior injury occurred. Some of the common re-injuries in children include:

    • Concussions
    • Overuse injuries
    • Stress fractures
    • Recurrent ankle sprains
    • Recurrent dislocations

    Parents and caregivers should ensure that the initial injury is fully healed before getting back to sports. This can be implemented through proper conditioning and rehabilitation programmes.

    Additionally, sports coaches should ensure that the child has proper sports equipment and is meticulously trained before getting back into sports.

Examples of sports injuries in children

Here are some examples of the common sports injuries found in children:

1. Concussion

This type of brain injury is caused by a blow or bump to the head. Concussions often happen in sports such as hockey, football, rugby, and basketball.

It is necessary to make sure that children wear the right sports equipment for protection to prevent concussion.

2. Sprained ankle

This occurs when a tear or twist occurs in the ligaments. The body's main areas affected by sprain are knees, ankles, and wrists.

The most common type of sprain is an ankle sprain which is found in sports activities that involve running such as rugby, tennis, basketball, football, etc.

3. ACL tear

Also known as anterior cruciate ligament tear, it is a commonly found injury in children who participate in sports activities involving jumping movements.

For complete ACL tears, reconstructive surgery may be required where the torn ligament is reconstructed using a tissue graft. Additionally, physiotherapy and bracing may also help with the recovery of partial tears.

4. Turf toe

The main symptom of turf toe includes pain and swelling of the big toe or pain while walking. This occurs when the big toe is hyperextended, mainly due to playing sports on artificial turf.

Children who play sports such as basketball, soccer and football are more susceptible to this injury. If a turf toe occurs, it should be immediately treated with ice to reduce the swelling. Sometimes brace, cast or physiotherapy may be suggested for some time.

Ensure that the children have proper footwear and are educated about the risk of injuries while playing.

5. Little league shoulder

This is a commonly known overuse injury in cricket and baseball players. Little league shoulder happens when the growth plate in the shoulder is damaged due to repetitive throwing movements.

The symptoms are a limited range of motion, shoulder pain, tenderness in the shoulder region, etc.

It can usually be treated with adequate rest and physiotherapy. However, in some instances where the injury is severe, surgery may be suggested by the doctor.

Little league shoulders can be avoided by training the young players with proper throwing techniques, avoiding overuse and other activities that put the shoulder muscles under extensive stress.

6. Little league elbow

This is an injury caused due to repetitive throwing motions commonly found in young basketball players. Little league elbow affects the growth plate in the elbow.

The commonly known symptoms include a limited range of motion and pain in the inner side of the elbow.

Young players should be trained in proper throwing mechanics to prevent injury. The standard treatment methods include physiotherapy and rest. However, for acute cases, surgery may be required.

7. Shin splints

These are found in children who participate in sports which involve rapid jumping and running, such as football and soccer. Shin splints cause inflammation and pain along the shin bone in the lower leg.

This is caused by overuse that leads to small tears in the tendons and muscles that attach to the tibia. Research indicates that shock absorbing insoles are thought to help in prevention of shin splints.

8. Spondylolysis

Spondylolysis is a weakness or stress fracture that occurs in one of the vertebrae (small bones which constitute the spinal column).

Spondylolysis is caused due to intense and repetitive stress on the vertebrae, causing minor bone fractures. This condition is commonly observed in participants involved in sports activities such as football, weightlifting and gymnastics.

To prevent this condition, proper standing and movement posture while playing should be taught.

What are the causes of sports injuries in children?

There are a multitude of factors which cause sports injuries in children. Some of those include:

  • Faulty techniques or mechanics
  • Lack of conditioning
  • Insufficient muscle strength
  • Poor hydration
  • Body fatigue
  • Insufficient coaching
  • Improper sports equipment or shoes
  • Lack of enough nutrition
  • Repeating the same motion
  • Inadequate stretching and warm up
  • Lack of enough rest
  • Trauma caused by contact with other equipment or players
  • Poorly maintained playing surface
  • Pre-existing injuries
  • Playing through pain or ignoring
  • Lack of proper coaching or supervision
  • Poor technique or form

How are sports injuries treated in children?

Sports injuries are treated based on their severity and type. A minor injury, such as a sprain, could be treated at home, as there is no injury to the bones. On the other hand, if the child undergoes severe injury such as a concussion or fracture, they should immediately be rushed to the hospital.

For treating sports injuries in children, one of the most effective and recommended methods is the R.I.C.E. treatment plan. This is a simple and effective treatment plan to speed up healing.

  • Rest (R): Once a sports-related injury occurs, the child should be given due care and an adequate resting period for the injury to heal.
  • Ice (I): Applying ice on the affected area helps to reduce the swelling. A cold pack, a towel wrapped around a bag of ice, frozen vegetables etc., can be used. The ice pack should be placed for 20-minutes several times a day.
  • Compression (C): This helps to reduce the swelling and support the injured area. The best way of doing this is by using a brace or bandage.
  • Elevation (E): Keeping the injured area above the chest level can ensure rapid healing. This can be quickly done with pillows or slings.

How to prevent sports injuries in children?

While small cuts and bruises are a common occurrence when children play, one can always take precautions to avoid serious sports related injuries. Consider the following tips:

  1. Use proper equipment

    It is essential that your child use proper equipment of the correct fit and size. This includes helmets, pads, shoes, mouthguards, etc.

    If you have any doubts about the safety equipment, ask your child's coach about the best-suited ones. In addition, do ensure that this equipment has the necessary safety certifications.

  2. Play on safe surfaces

    The playing surface should be well-maintained and safe to avoid injuries caused by falling, tripping, or slipping. Carefully inspect the field to ensure it has no holes or ruts.

  3. Don't overdo

    Make sure that your child does not overdo sports or engage in heavy routines. Educate them on how to avoid injuries by limiting the number of games they play weekly.

  4. Adult supervision

    This is a crucial aspect of preventing sports-related injuries, especially in small children and pre-teens. Supervision can significantly help children participate in safe activities while ensuring that they use proper equipment and techniques.

    • The best-case scenarios are when the sports instructors:
    • Are well knowledgeable in CPR and first aid techniques.
    • Enforces safe playing rules.
  5. Warm up before every game

    This is a vital step that many children neglect, and the result is muscle injuries. Children should be taught the importance of stretching and warming up before a game. In addition, they should also be taught cooling-up exercises after a game for quick relaxation.

Make an appointment at Pantai Hospitals

A dedicated and expert team of Orthopaedic specialists at Pantai Hospital is available for consultation to provide the best care and assistance.

If you notice a sports-related injury in your child that raises concerns and may require medical attention, please seek immediate medical attention at the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department at your nearest Pantai Hospital.

Pantai Hospitals have been accredited by the Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH) for its commitment to patient safety and service quality.

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