Kids' Sports Injuries

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on January 09, 2014

More than 1.3 million kids went to the ER with sports injuries in 2012. That’s a lot of torn knee ligaments, sprained ankles, and busted heads.

Which are the most dangerous activities? And what can you do to keep a young athlete safe?

  • Football caused the most emergency room visits among U.S. athletes 19 and under (394,350 ER visits in 2012), followed in order by basketball, soccer, and baseball.
  • The body parts most injured are the ankle, head, finger, knee, and face.
  • Strains and sprains are the most commonly diagnosed in kids -- 451,480 annually. Next are broken bones, bruises, scrapes, and concussions.

The best way to avoid an ER visit is to start preparing before the first snap, tipoff, face-off, or pitch of the season.

“It starts with a good, all-around preseason physical,” says David Marshall, MD, medical director of the Sports Medicine Program at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “Not just the physical examination. Let’s teach more about stretching and nutrition and supplements. Let’s teach awareness. I usually don’t get involved until somebody gets injured. But I’d like to see us become more proactive at the front end.”

A concussion is a blow to the head that can affect the way your brain works. It is the most common type of traumatic brain injury.

There are more concussions in football than in any other sport: 58,080. That's more than basketball and soccer combined. Almost half the concussions in youth sports occur between ages 12 and 15.

Symptoms include:

If your young athlete has any of these symptoms, seek medical attention. Concussions are serious business. Kids who go to the emergency room with sports-related concussions are about twice as likely to be hospitalized as those with non-concussion injuries. Early diagnosis, treatment, and rehab are crucial.

With concussions, treatment begins with awareness.

“In a lot of concussions, a kid might feel dizzy and confused, but there are no outward signs,” Marshall says. “But we’re seeing a trend of more awareness among kids, parents, coaches, school administrators.”

A high school football team might have 70 kids in a workout. You can’t expect the coach to look every kid in the eye. So Marshall and his colleagues at Children's Healthcare are teaching the buddy system to the school sports teams they work with.

“From time to time, you check on your buddy,” Marshall says. “Did he take a good shot? Ask him if he’s seeing stars. Is he feeling light-headed? Make him tell you if something hurts, or he doesn’t feel right, and let somebody know.”

In Marshall’s experience, overuse injuries are becoming more common than accidents.

“Many kids want, or feel the need, to play the same sport year-round, to maintain that spot on the coveted travel team or elite team. So we’re seeing more injuries related to overuse,” he says. “If you do nothing but play tennis year-round, you’re using the same muscles in the same fashion over and over. Same thing if you’re a pitcher in baseball.”

Again, Marshall focuses on prevention:

  • Consider mixing up your sports: Play football in the fall, basketball in the winter, soccer in the spring, etc.
  • Use your muscles in different ways, not just repetitive motions.
  • If your child plays one sport year-round, preseason physicals should focus on overused muscles.

“For example, if you know your kid is only going to play baseball all year and he’s a pitcher, a good preseason sports physical will include a really close look at his shoulder muscles,” Marshall says. “Or if she’s a competitive cheerleader or a tumbler, look at the core, the lower back."

He also recommends physical therapy before the season. "For any sport, injury management starts with injury prevention."

Show Sources


BrainLine: “Concussion/Mild TBI.”

CDC: “Sports Injuries: The Reality.”

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: “Injury and Pain Care.”

David Marshall, MD, medical director, Sports Medicine Program, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta; adjunct assistant professor, department of pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine.

Kids Play USA Foundation: “Benefits of Youth Sports.” 

Safe Kids Worldwide: “Game Changers: Stats, Stories and What Communities Are Doing to Protect Young Athletes.”

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