Tips to help keep young athletes moving

By James Cafarella, M.D.

kids playing sportsWith spring in full swing, your children are likely spending after-school hours at team practice for their favorite sports or physical activities. Whether they choose baseball, soccer, dance, swim or another pastime, it’s a good time stay informed about injury prevention and safety specific to your child’s age and type of exercise.

The benefits of playing sports are plentiful, promoting both mental and physical well-being, improving problem solving and developing social skills, to name a few. However, with any sport comes the risk of injury, and parents and coaches are highly encouraged to take safety precautions to keep young athletes free of harm and feeling well throughout the sport season.

Before the season begins, schedule a preseason physical with your pediatrician to ensure your child is in good health. Encouraging kids to stay in shape and prepare for their sport is a great way of protecting against potential injury. Research the safety rules and protective gear associated with each activity your children enjoy as well as proper techniques for using any athletic equipment involved.

Despite the many positives associated with sports, playing will always increase one’s chance of injury to a certain degree. Knowing what to look out for and when to seek care will help you to best manage the situation if and when injury occurs.

James Cafarella, a pediatrician at UC Davis Medical Group, Auburn

James Cafarella is a pediatrician at UC Davis Medical Group’s Auburn primary care clinic.

According to the National Institutes of Health, some of the most common sports-sustained injuries in kids include:
•    Sprains and muscle strains
An injury to a ligament is a sprain and an injury to a muscle or tendon is a strain. An ankle sprain is the most common athletic injury and can occur easily by rolling the ankle or landing on it awkwardly on the grass or other surface.
•    Growth plate injuries
The growth plate is the area of developing tissue at the end of the long bones growing in children and adolescents, such as those in the forearm, legs, feet and hands.  
•    Repetitive motion injuries
With repetitive overuse of muscles and tendons injuries such as stress fractures and tendonitis may occur causing pain and discomfort. They may show up as a stress fracture or inflammation of a tendon. These injuries can cause pain and discomfort and respond well to RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation).
•    Heat-related illness
The body heats up during athletic activity and in summer months particularly so. Children sweat less than adults and because their bodies require a higher body temperature to trigger sweating, they need to take extra hydration and cooling measures before, during and after playing. Signs of heat-related illness may appear in symptoms such as weakness, pale or moist skin, nausea, dizziness, fainting, confusion, and headache.
•    Head injury
Head injuries occur in sports like football, soccer, baseball and even basketball if proper precautions aren’t taken. Wearing proper protective gear and knowing the rules of the sport is key.

Take these additional preventive measures with your child to guard against avoidable injury:

•    Don’t allow you child to play when very tired, sick or in pain.
•    Incorporate warm-up and cool-down exercises before and after playing.
•    Stay hydrated — children need fluid breaks every 20 minutes during practices and game time, and more after playing.

Played safely, seasonal sports can continue to boost your child’s happiness, health, and overall wellness. Participating in sports has been shown to decrease stress, improve self-esteem, improve alertness and productivity, improve sleep habits and maintain muscle, bone and joint health. All good reasons to make this the cheering season!