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Keeping Kids Safe in Sports

Play It Safe

High School Sports

Younger kids are more likely to get hurt in falls (off bikes, playground equipment, and scooters, for example), while older kids are more apt to get hurt in collisions as they move into high-contact sports. Those high school athletic injuries should get more attention, said Joseph A. Bosco III, MD, at the 69th Annual Meeting of the AAOS. Professional and college sports offer athletes sophisticated medical care, he says, but high school athletes don't get the same attention.

"More than 1 million American children participate in high school sports annually," says Bosco, who practices in New York City and works with a number of high school teams.

The bone structure of many teenagers has not fully matured, Bosco explains. This makes them more vulnerable to certain types of injuries and conditions than older athletes are. Areas of growing tissue near the end of children's long bones -- known as growth plates -- for example, get injured more easily than tendons and ligaments. These growth plates mature by the end of adolescence, but until then, what might be a sprain in an adult could be a serious injury in a high school player, says Bosco. Contact sports such as football and basketball, and overdoing it in sports such as gymnastics and baseball, can result in growth plate injuries.

High school athletes may also suffer from osteochondritis -- an inflammation of the cartilage and underlying bone -- and spondylolisthesis -- a condition in which a vertebra slips forward on one beneath it.

Don't Tough It Out

Even when injuries appear slight, Bosco says, young athletes need prompt medical attention. "Parents and coaches should not pressure the athlete to work through the pain because untreated injuries can lead to permanent damage and later disease, such as osteoarthritis," he says. "Young athletes are resilient, but parents and coaches should never assume kids will 'bounce back' from an injury because of their youth."

Mary Lloyd Ireland, MD, team physician for Eastern Kentucky University in Lexington, agrees: "Toughing it out" is not the way to go for young athletes, she says. Coaches and players can't always tell how severe an injury really is. A minor injury such as a dislocated finger, for example, can be painful, while serious injuries such as concussions or neck injuries may not be.

Ireland says physicians should always "overtreat" head injuries especially and keep athletes out of the game if they appear to have memory loss or a headache, or if they become nauseated while running.

"The more experience I get, the more conservative I get," she says.

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