April 24, 2012 -- About 1 in 3 kids who plays sports will need medical attention due to injuries sustained on the field or court, such as concussions, broken bones, and dehydration, a new survey shows.
While some of these injuries can be serious, some easy-to-follow prevention tips including drinking enough water and wearing protective sports gear that fits appropriately can help children play it safe and still receive all the benefits of regular sports and physical activity.
The new survey was commissioned by Safe Kids Worldwide and Johnson & Johnson. It includes data on sports injuries and attitudes about prevention from 516 children ages 8-18 who played several sports, as well as 750 parents and 752 coaches.
When in Doubt, Take Them Out
About 1 in 5 traumatic brain injuries in kids occurs during sports and recreation activities. Yet more than half of all coaches surveyed believe there is an acceptable degree of head contact -- in the survey described as "getting your bell rung" or "seeing stars" -- that children can receive without risking a serious brain injury.
"The concussion issue is a really big one," says Kate Carr. She is the president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide in Washington, D.C. The mantra should be "when in doubt, take them out."
Children who may have sustained a concussion should remain out of the game until they are cleared by a doctor. Signs of a concussion may include dizziness, confusion, loss of consciousness, vomiting, and fatigue. Many concussions don't involve a loss of consciousness. "They may seem disoriented, confused, and/or have hard time remembering something somebody just told them," Carr says.
Signs of a concussion do not necessarily occur immediately after the initial injury. They can happen days or weeks after a blow to the head.
Anders Cohen, MD, is the chief of neurosurgery and spine surgery at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York. When it comes to head blows, "one plus one equals three," he says. "If you have one and then another in a short time frame, this more than doubles the initial injury."
According to the survey, getting kids off the field may be easier said than done. Nearly half of all coaches said they have felt pressure from parents or children to play an injured child. What's more, 30% of kids think they should keep playing even when they're hurt unless a coach or adult makes them stop.
It's also important to drink enough water to stave off dehydration, Carr says. In the survey, 40% of parents underestimated the amount of fluids a child needs per hour of physical activity. Kids need three glasses of water for each hour of sports they play. This is akin to drinking a glass of water every 15 to 20 minutes, she says.
Overuse Injuries in Children
The new report also focuses on overuse injuries. "Kids need a break from sports," says Carr. If they play a year-round sport, take one season off to prevent overuse injuries. It helps to take one or two days off a week from the sport during the regular season, too. "Do something else instead," she says.
The rise in overuse injuries in kids is due to early specialization in one sport and year-round sports, says Jordan Metzl, MD. He is a sports medicine doctor at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. "Your injury rate goes up if you only play one sport."
For example, year-round baseball players tend to get shoulder and elbow injuries at a much higher rate than kids who play different sports throughout the year.
Kids should never play through pain, he says.
"Sports specialization has made some kids excellent at certain sports and alienated certain kids who aren't as good," he says. "Sports for kids should be about fun, activity, and exercise, and if they are getting hurt or not having fun, they will become discouraged."
This is particularly important due the high rates of childhood obesity and an inactive lifestyle. "We know that kids who are involved in sports do better in school, have higher self-esteem, do better with friends, and end up being healthy adolescents and adults," Metzl says.