Tips for Avoiding Sports Injuries in Children and Adolescentsd

By Dr. Robert E. Morris, Director of Pediatrics, Orthopaedic Hospital, Los Angeles

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Dr. Robert E. Morris, Director of Pediatrics, Orthopaedic Hospital, Los Angeles, offers these practical suggestions based on 20 years’ experience in the field.

November 14, 2000

1. Use common sense!

Do not allow the heat of the moment, the coach, or your child force YOU, the parent, into allowing your child to continue playing after an injury in a game. The short-term gain of a victory will never be worth the possible long-term disability that continuing play could cause. In most cases, if you are sitting in the stands and become aware of an injury, it is serious enough to be evaluated.

2. Listen to your child.

If your child doesn’t want to play a particular sport, don’t force him/her to play. Some parents feel that sports participation is necessary for a boy to be a man. Other fathers unconsciously wish to live vicariously through their child’s athletic pursuits. Some children are gifted athletes, some gifted students, others gifted artists. Although practice can improve any of these areas, a child who “hates” a sport is unlikely to enjoy practice. The risk of injury is also increased for children who would rather be doing something else. There is “no way out” except injury. Communicate constantly with your child to learn what activities “really turn them on” and then help them to succeed at “it.”

3. Make sure the league or school system matches kids by size and physical maturity, not by age.

During puberty, boys and girls the same age can vary greatly in size and muscle power. Smaller youngsters can be both physically and emotionally hurt when paired with a bigger, stronger adversary.

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4. Start training before the season begins.

Prior to the season, be sure your athlete begins gradually increasing conditioning. Sudden heavy workouts commonly cause overuse injuries that will slow down further conditioning and impede performance.

5. In warm climates, be sure your school/league and its coaches understand heat-induced illness.

Athletes must be brought water and told to drink regularly (every 20-30 minutes) in warm weather. Depending on thirst, to cue drinking won’t work and can lead to serious dehydration. Don’t allow anyone to give your child salt tablets! Sports drinks especially formulated with appropriate concentrations of sugar and minerals should always be available, especially in hot weather.

6. Insist that your child learn appropriate ways to stretch muscles and tendons before beginning workouts and games.

7. A certified athletic trainer should be in every school engaged in athletics.

Trainers have four years of college training to help athletes condition themselves and to recognize and treat sports injuries before they can cause disability.

8. If your child becomes injured, get him/her out of the game.

Be sure to see a physician who understands sports injuries, an orthopedist or sports medicine physician would be best. A pediatrician, adolescent medicine physician or other practitioner who has expertise in this area is also okay. Injuries sustained by teenage athletes can cause very early onset of adult arthritis and other disabilities even before age 30. Appropriate treatment and rehabilitation of injuries helps prevent future problems and improves today’s performance.

9. When rehabilitation exercises are prescribed for your child, be sure they are done.

10. Be certain that your child has an adequate diet.

Eating lots of carbohydrates (potato, pasta, rice, and bread) the night before a game or meet helps fill muscles with glycogen, the energy chemical needed by muscles. Many young athletes fail to eat the day before and the morning of athletic games--this leads to hypoglycemia and poor performance. Large, high-protein meals [steak] just before a game should be avoided because they slow the emptying of the stomach and impede digestion.

11. Be cautious of some sports, such as wrestling, that encourage losing weight in order to “rank” for competition.

Attempts to induce large weight losses by starvation, sweat suits, and purging can be very dangerous. Athletes always do best at or close to their normal weight. A prudent low fat diet is best for everyone and will help keep body weight where it should be.

12. Be sure that your son or daughter has a pre-season sports physical by a qualified physician.

If there is a family history of youngsters suffering sudden death or serious injury or known genetic conditions, tell the doctor during the exam.

13. Be sure that your child’s and the school’s equipment is in good shape.

Participate in the PTA (Parent Teacher’s Association) to advocate for safe equipment.

14. Go to your child’s games and meets.

See what’s happening, talk to the coach or school if you see unsafe things occur. Your child will appreciate your interest and participation for their entire lives, and they also will never forget your lack of interest when you fail to attend their athletic pursuits.

15. If your child is knocked out or “sees stars” after being hit in a game, be sure there is no more contact allowed until a knowledgeable physician allows a return to play.

Repeated “minor” head injuries can add up and lead to sudden, severe, and sometimes fatal brain swelling.

A resident of Southern California, Robert E. Morris, M.D. received a B.S. in 1967 at Georgetown University, in Washington D.C. and a medical degree from Temple University Medical School in Philadelphia, PA, in 1971.

In addition to his academic title of Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, Morris is also the Director of Pediatrics at Orthopaedic Hospital and Associate Director of the Adolescent Medicine Program at the UCLA Medical Center. Morris is board certified in Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Dr. Morris also teaches courses at the UCLA School of Medicine and gives presentations on a wide variety of subjects, a few of which are drug abuse in adolescents, juvenile correction medicine, battered child syndrome, sports medicine, chronic illness, developmental issues, and sexual abuse in children.

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