Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 01, 2020
Cuts, Scrapes, and Bruises
Kids are active. They run, jump, climb, and fall. A lot. Hands, elbows, and knees are the places most likely to get hurt. You can treat minor bumps and bruises at home.
For cuts and scrapes, rinse the area under running water until it’s clean. You can use mild soap. Apply some antibiotic ointment and cover it with a bandage. Call the doctor if the cut is large, deep, or if the area becomes red and swollen, or you see pus -- these are signs of infection.
For bruises, soothe the swelling with an ice pack wrapped in a wet cloth. If your kid has trouble walking or moving, or the swelling doesn’t go down, call the doctor.
Back and Shoulder Problems
If your child lugs around a backpack that’s too heavy or carries it on one shoulder, they can develop back, neck, and shoulder pain, along with posture problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids always use two shoulder straps, and backpacks shouldn’t weigh more than 10% to 20% of the child’s body weight. (You can use the bathroom scale: If your child weighs 80 pounds, the backpack should weigh between 8 and 16 pounds.)
Kids, especially young ones, touch and grab everything. That makes it easy for wood slivers, thorns, and other debris to get under their skin.
Use a needle sterilized with rubbing alcohol to gently prick the skin over it, then pull it out with clean tweezers. If that doesn’t work, try touching the area with tape to see if that helps get it out. Once the splinter is removed, use an antibiotic ointment to help keep it from getting infected.
Strains and Sprains
Baseball, soccer, gymnastics: Most kids are involved in some kind of sport, and that can lead to torn muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The ankle is the most commonly sprained joint.
If it happens to your kid, they’ll need to rest it. Apply ice, wrap it snugly, and keep it raised. Over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help. Call the doctor if they can’t walk or move the injured area. It could be broken, and they may need an X-ray.
Common causes of broken bones: a fall off a skateboard or scooter, getting tackled, or slipping from the monkey bars. Breaks are most common in arms because it’s natural to throw your hands out to try to break a fall. The area will swell and be painful to press on or move. Call 911 if you can see the bone through the skin.
Kids in the U.S. have 1 million to 2 million sports and recreation-related head injuries each year. For children under 14, the top causes are cycling, football, baseball, basketball, and skateboards or scooters. If your child has taken a hit to the head, keep an eye on them. Symptoms of concussion usually show up right away, but not always.
Call the doctor immediately if your child loses consciousness, appears dazed, or complains of blurry vision or a headache that won’t go away.
It’s probably a good thing we get two sets of teeth. Another common childhood injury is broken, chipped, and knocked-out teeth. Nearly 50% of kids will have some type of tooth accident during childhood. The reasons: trips, falls, sports, and, yes, fights. (Not your kid, right?) The front teeth take the brunt of it.
Call the dentist if a tooth is broken, loose, or sensitive. If a baby tooth is completely knocked out, don’t try to place it back in the gums. But if it’s a permanent tooth, rinse it with clean water, put it back in the socket as fast as possible, and head to the dentist. It may save the tooth.
This condition is also known as a pulled elbow, and it’s common in preschoolers. Because their bones and muscles are still developing, it doesn’t take much to pull the elbow partially out of place. It can happen when a caregiver pulls on a child’s arm or swings a toddler by the arms. You might notice your child holding their arm still and not using it. A doctor can easily reset the elbow.
The name sounds scary, but this is a pretty common heel injury in growing kids. The growth plate in the heel becomes inflamed and causes your child a lot of pain. It typically happens in kids 9 to 13 years old, especially those who play running or jumping sports such as soccer, basketball, or gymnastics. The pain usually goes away with rest, ice, and stretching. When the growth plate matures (usually by the time your kid is 13), the condition goes away.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
Seattle Children’s Hospital: “Should Your Child See a Doctor? Cuts, Scrapes or Bruises.”
Stanford Children’s Health: “Superficial Injuries Overview,” “Bruises,” “Sprains and Strains in Children.”
Palo Alto Medical Foundation Health Blog: “Caring for Common Cuts and Scrapes.”
KidsHealth.org: “What’s a Bruise?” “Broken Bones,” ”Dealing With Cuts.”
Mayo Clinic: "Foreign object in the skin: First aid."
HealthyChildren.org: “Splinters and Other Foreign Bodies in the Skin,” “Trampolines: What You Need to Know,” “Heel Pain and Sever's Disease,” “Backpack Safety.”
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases: “Preventing Musculoskeletal Sports Injuries in Youth: A Guide for Parents.”
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Playground Safety Guide,” “Nursemaid’s Elbow.”
Bryan, M. Pediatrics, June 2016.
American Association of Neurological Surgeons: “Sports-Related Head Injury.”