4 Ways to Prevent Common Sports Injuries in Kids
For most kids, back-to-school means more than just a heavy backpack and homework.
It means after-school practices and weekend games. In fact, your child might want to be on the field playing even more than they want to be in the classroom learning. Christopher Ruhnke MD, of the TriHealth Orthopedic and Spine Institute, shares a few tips for keeping your child in the game this year.
Tip #1: Stretch Well Before and After Activity
Early in the season, children are more likely to suffer hamstring pulls, ankle sprains, and calf strains because their muscles aren't warmed up or preconditioned. Playing video games all summer doesn’t really help keep muscles primed for activity. To prevent this, Dr. Ruhnke suggests stretching before and after practices or games.
When stretching, some common guidelines to follow include:
- Exhale and extend the muscles to the point of tension – not pain – and hold for 20 to 60 seconds. (Beginners may need to start with a five- to 10-second stretch.)
- Breathe evenly and constantly while holding the stretch.
- Inhale when returning to a relaxed position. Holding your breath defeats the purpose; it causes muscle contraction and raises blood pressure.
- When doing stretches that involve the back, relax the spine to keep the lower back flush with the mat, and to work only the muscles required for changing position (often these are only the abdominal muscles).
It’s not always easy to convince children to stretch after school, before a game, or after practice. The television or a hearty snack is much more appealing than stopping to stretch. Encourage your kids to stretch while watching their favorite show, or before sitting down to chow down. Or, try working a stretch session in to your morning routine – it can be something you do to start the day as a family.
Tip #2: Hydrate
During the late summer and early fall months, heat exhaustion and dehydration are especially common, so Dr. Ruhnke encourages kids (read: parents!) to be proactive about staying hydrated.
“The best thing to do is drink water over a prolonged period of time,” he points out. “You don’t want your kid drinking a half-gallon of water an hour before practice, because that’s not going to work.”
For mild cases of dehydration, drinking small amounts of water or using a cooling blanket will usually suffice, but if your child doesn’t respond to that, then call a professional, like an athletic trainer or doctor, or call 911.
Tip #3: Condition Before the Season Starts
“With everybody getting back into soccer and football, initially, you’re going to see a lot of strains and sprains, because people aren’t in shape and they’re going back and running hard,” Dr. Ruhnke explains.
The conditioning necessary depends on the sport. For example, if your children play soccer, football or run cross-country, some light jogging during the weeks or months leading up to the season will prepare their muscles and may prevent injuries. It can be difficult to get your child up and out during the summer nowadays, especially without team practices three times a week that promote discipline. Encourage your young athlete to jog around the yard before going to get ice cream, or take the dog on brisk walks every night.
Tip #4: Strength Train
As the season goes on, kids are more prone to knee and ankle injuries. “We have programs that show you how to strengthen these muscles, so you can limit these injuries, if not eliminate them,” Dr. Ruhnke says.
While aerobic exercise, like running, helps the heart and increases respiratory stamina, it does not build much upper body strength or tone muscles. Strength training, however, helps build muscle strength and maintain bone density for a person’s entire life. Something as simple as having your child carry the heaviest grocery bags they can or dig in the garden can help build and maintain muscle strength outside of practice and training.
But, even following all these tips won’t guarantee that a young athlete doesn’t end up with a minor injury from a game or practice. Your family doctor or a priority care can take care of minor strains and sprains. If the injury is more serious, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a specialist.
Last Updated: August 25, 2016