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Keeping Kids Safe in Sports

Play It Safe

WebMD Feature

When kids hop on a bike or grab a football, they have little else on their mind besides having fun or winning against the other kids. That's probably as it should be. But it also means it's up to parents, coaches, and doctors to help kids avoid sports-related injuries that can range from simple fractures to total paralysis -- or worse.

For kids 5-14, biking, basketball, football, roller sports, soccer, baseball and softball, and playing on playgrounds and trampolines are among the favorite sports and recreational activities. But these also top the list when it comes to causing injuries.

According to a study published in the November/December 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, U.S. hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices, and clinics treated an estimated 2.2 million children's bone fractures, dislocations, and muscle injuries related to these recreational activities in the year 2000.

John M. Purvis, MD, a clinical assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and rehabilitation at the University of Mississippi Medical School in Jackson and co-author of the study, is a pediatric orthopaedic specialist who sees all kinds of sprains, strains, and contusions. Because their muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons are still growing, he says, young athletes are more likely to be injured than others.

And, he adds, other activities may sometimes be even riskier. The number of injuries caused by activities such as cheerleading, gymnastics, and winter sports may be smaller, but the risk of really serious injury may be higher, according to Purvis. "There's a high risk of catastrophic injuries, such as paralysis, in these sports."

'Play it Safe!'

Recreational activities are important for kids' healthy development, says Purvis, but "with the [increasing] number of children and adolescents participating in sports and play activities, the number of injuries continues to increase."

Purvis doesn't suggest reducing your kids' involvement in these activities, but he does stress the importance of following safety guidelines and using protective equipment.

To that end, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America, the Canadian Orthopaedic Association, and the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine have started a "Play It Safe!" campaign to reduce sports injuries.

This campaign recommends encouraging children to:

  • Be in proper physical condition before they play a sport. (A preparticipation physical, especially for older children, is important, says Purvis, to screen for undiagnosed heart ailments).
  • Know and follow the rules of the sport.
  • Wear appropriate protective gear -- such as shin guards for soccer, a hard-shell helmet when facing a baseball pitcher, a helmet and body padding for ice hockey, and properly fitting shoes whatever the sport.
  • Know how to use athletic equipment -- for instance, how to adjust the bindings on snow skis.
  • Always warm up before playing.
  • Avoid playing when tired or in pain.

 

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