Sports Related Injuries in Pediatrics

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 38 million children participate in sports in the United States. Of these children, more than 2.6 million adolescents (aged 19 years or younger) are treated in emergency departments annually from sports related injuries. These types of injuries are the most common cause of musculoskeletal injuries in children treated in emergency departments. While the most frequent types of injuries are strains or sprains, other commonly encountered injuries range from scrapes and bruises to serious brain and spinal cord injuries such as concussions. Sports related injuries among adolescents is an especially important topic that deserves special attention due to the specific risk factors that are associated with their younger age.

Sprains and strains are the most common injuries that are encountered in children who participate in some type of sport. Sprains are a result of an injury to a ligament, the bands of fibrous tissues that connect bones at a joint. These injuries can occur when one lands on the side of their foot or twists their knee when the foot is still planted, or for a variety of other reasons. The other type of common injury is a strain which involves an injury to either a muscle or tendon, which is the tissue that connects muscle to bone. Strained muscles might occur when one returns to a sport after having taken a long time off or can be caused by injuries such as twisting one’s ankle for example. While sprains and strains are by far the most common types of injuries seen among young athletes, they are in most cases the simplest to treat.

On the other hand, growth plate injuries as a result of sports accidents are considered more serious and are a unique risk factor that is specifically associated with younger athletes. Growth plates are areas of developing tissues at the end of long bones that are present in growing children and adolescents. As children age, the growth plate is gradually replaced by solid bone.  If any of these associated areas become injured, it can lead to misshapen bones or limbs in the most extreme cases. Fortunately, these are rare and in most cases with the right attention and treatment, growth plate injuries can be treated with no permanent damage. Still, before growth is complete, the growth plates are at risk of fractures which pose a larger risk to children than to adults, whose bones have finished growing.

The most serious sports related injuries are injuries to the brain or spinal cord and should be paid the closest attention. Concussions are a common example in sports, especially contact sports such as football or even soccer. A concussion is an injury to the brain that changes its functioning, usually temporarily. Symptoms manifest in the athlete showing signs of confusion, dizziness, headaches, unsteadiness, and nausea following the accident. While these injuries are most commonly associated with blows to the head, it can also result from the head and upper body being violently shaken. Furthermore, concussions in kids are different than concussions sustained by adults. While in most cases injuries heal faster in kids than adults, studies show that healing rates for concussions sustained by kids are slower than those of adults. Also, children are at a greater risk of suffering a second, more serious injury if the first concussion isn’t fully allowed to heal and can sustain a second concussion from a lesser impact than is generally required to produce one. Repetitive brain trauma, especially starting from an early age can lead to more serious issues later in life. While most mild concussions should heal on their own over time, the biggest mistake made by young athletes, coaches, or parents is trying to return to activity too soon. Thus, with these types of injuries it is best to be especially cautious and to routinely consult with a medical professional.

Sports related injuries in adolescents is common and luckily younger athletes tend to bounce back from mild injuries more quickly than the average adult. However, preventing sports injuries are just as, if not more, important than treating them. There are many ways children can participate in sports in a safe and exciting environment and perhaps avoid any injury. For one, it is advised that children be in enrolled in organized sports through schools or community clubs that are properly maintained and staffed. In addition, it is important that young athletes make sure to use proper equipment, make a habit of warming-up and cooling-down as well as stay hydrated at all times. Conditioning and strengthening muscles is also a good preventative measure to keep your body ready for intense physical activity. Learning the proper technique and fundamentals for any given sport is also recommended to prevent any injuries. However, at times it might not be possible to prevent an injury from happening as any sport carries some potential for injury. Thus, if an accident does occur, it is imperative that athletes do not try to play through the pain. For soft tissue injuries such as a sprain or strain, athletes may follow the R.I.C.E procedure (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate). First, reduce use of the injured area for at least 48 hours. Next, ice the area for 20 minutes at a time about 4 to 8 times a day. Use elastic wraps, casts, or splints that can be used to compress an injured area which will reduce swelling. Finally, keep the area elevated above the level of the heart to decrease swelling. For more severe injuries it may be necessary to seek professional treatment.

The nature of sports makes injuries inevitable at times, but that should not stop you from enrolling your child in sports or encouraging them to pursue an active lifestyle. The effects of exercise range far and wide and have been shown to reduce chances of obesity and diabetes as well as helping children build social skills. It also acts as an early step towards teaching kids how to work in teams and can provide many life skills that they can carry with them into their adult lives. By taking the preventative measures mentioned above and teaching young athletes safe habits prior to, during, and post training, injuries can be kept to a minimum as they enjoy leading an active lifestyle.