Common Kids’ Sports Injuries & How They Can Be Prevented

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“84% of Canadian youth in the 3-17 age range participate in some type of sports and 60% do it on an organized basis,” says the recent Canadian Youth Sports Report. (5) Most sports involve moderate to vigorous physical activity, thus the risk of injury is higher if compared to sedentary way of spending your free time. If you think that sports-related injuries only a “clumsy” kids, that isn’t true. “In Canada, an injury is the leading cause of death for not only children, but for all Canadians between the ages of 1 and 44”, and in particular, “one in every five kids who are involved with a sport or activity will suffer an injury over the course of a year. That’s about 1.2 million kids who have anything from sprained ankles to more serious injuries like broken bones and concussions”. (4)

What sports cause the most injuries?    
Are there sports that are considered to be the most traumatic, or it all depends on a child’s skills and character? Common injuries vary by sport as well as age and depends on the way the sport is played.  Basketball causes injuries to fingers, ankles and knees; cycling can cause head and shoulder injuries; baseball and soccer cause injuries to ankles, knees, and the face. Football damages fingers, knees and shoulders more than any other part of the body. (2)

High-impact contact sports undoubtedly are the leading source of head injuries, and specifically concussions. (6). According to the same report,  “the top three sports that cause injuries for boys are soccer, hockey and football”, and “for girls, soccer, gymnastics and dance are the top three culprits.” (4), therefore, even though football is known as the sport that causes the most injuries, it isn’t true.  Even though soccer is the number one activity causing injuries for boys and girls, it doesn’t deter parents from enrolling their child into this sport.

Skateboarding isn’t known as one of the most popular sports activity among kids, but it “has the worst reputation for injuries”(3). Parents, who participated in the study, were asked which sports were likely to cause the most injuries, and their answers brought skateboarding to the top of the chart (4).

The most common type of injuries

Knee injuries (1)

Knee injuries are a common injury among all sports. Sprains (stretched or torn ligaments) are an especially common and the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) gets damaged the most. This can happen if a kid changes direction quickly, twist a leg or fall, slow down when running, or land from a jump. The knee can cause pain from chronic overuse, which happens over time from repeated prolonged running. (1)

Shoulder injuries (1)

Shoulder injuries are very common for sports that require an extensive use of shoulder joints, like swimming, tennis, baseball, or even golf. Don't "play through" shoulder pain – you may end up making things worse.

Heat injuries

Heat exhaustion is a serious condition and can happen as a result of a heavy sweating due to intense exercise while drinking not enough water to replenish the loss of it. The body can't deliver enough blood to the brain, skin, and muscles, leading to dizziness, weakness, and fainting. (1) Heat regulation system of kids is not fully developed yet, so they at the greater risk for heat exhaustion than adults.  

“If the body becomes dehydrated (runs out of fluids), you can end up with life-threatening heat stroke, which can show up suddenly. As the sweating mechanism shuts down, the skin becomes hot and dry, and the body temperature soars, leading to convulsions and permanent brain damage”. (1) Medical attention required right away. Meanwhile, a kid needs to be moved to a shaded place, remove extra layers of clothes, wet and fan the body, and raise the person's legs and buttocks, and offer as much as possible water to drink. (1)

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What to do when an injury occurs

It’s important not to play through pain hoping it will get better. First aid is necessary, and RICE Method is very useful to treat minor sports injuries such as sprains and strains (7) (8). It is an acronym that stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

Rest – is a must component to promote tissue healing, and prevent aggravation of the injury. Stop using the injured area for at least 48 hours.

Ice – cold helps to reduce the pain and inflammation of the injured area, most effective right after the injury occurred and the following 48 hours. It can be applied for 10 min but not more than 20 min (longer exposure to the ice-cold temperature can damage the skin), 4-8 times a day, or as needed. Cold gel pack or ice in a plastic bag can be used for that purpose.

Compression  -wrapping the elastic bandage around the injured area can help to reduce the swelling, but be careful not to wrap too tight, it might disrupt the proper circulation of the injured area. Throbbing or tingling feeling are the signs that bandage is too tight. Redo it!  

Elevation- is positioning the injured area above the heart level, which reduces the blood flow to it, and therefore decreases swelling.

If using RICE for 48 hours didn’t help to reduce pain and swelling, that it is time to seek professional medical help. (7) (8)

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Sports Injuries Requiring Medical Attention

There are injury related situations when applying the RICE technique is not enough. Keep an eye on the symptoms after sport-related injuries and it's vital to seek immediate medical attention if you spotted the following:

  • Blurred vision

  • Confusion

  • Dizziness

  • Ear pain

  • Headache or Migraine

  • Inability to move a limb or joint

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Loss of vision

  • Nausea

  • Nosebleed lasting longer than 20 minutes

  • Numbness

  • Ringing in the ears

  • Severe pain and swelling

  • Vomiting

How to prevent them

  1. The key to preventing serious injuries is to spot problems early! Make sure kids never play through the pain!

  2. Remind them to warm up and stretch before they engage in physical activity. Use of proper game technique and strength training is a very effective injury preventative measure. (2)

  3. Kids must wear proper protection and wear them correctly while playing certain sports. Devices like insoles, ankle supports, or knee braces can prevent sprains to stress fractures. Helmets are common sense for protecting the head. (1)

  4. If exercise is particularly intense, kids should not stop immediately – they should slow down gradually before stopping and stretch afterwards. This will not only help with aches but also prevent them from getting dizzy from an abrupt stop in activity. (1)

  5. Make sure kids rest between the practices, games and events!  A lack of sleep and muscle fatigue predispose kids’ growing bodies to injury (9)

  6. Any sport should practice fair play by following the rules – rules are there for a reason!

  7. Know the kids’ skills level, recognize their abilities! Challenge them, but don’t push for more than they can handle.

  8. Kids have to stay hydrated at all times, especially during hot and humid days! (9)

  9. Parents should educate themselves and raise awareness about sports injuries and their symptoms through the research, talking to coaches and getting information from available topic related educational programs.

Any sports activity contains the possibility of injury of a different kind, and obviously avoiding the active style of life is not an option. The only solution for reducing the numbers of injuries among kids is to follow the rules, increase the knowledge about why, how and when injuries happen, and learn ways to prevent them.