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Childhood Sports Injuries

The number of children participating in sports activities has increased in recent years resulting in an increased incidence of childhood sports injuries. The risk of injury increases when children do not use appropriate protective gear during contact sports activities such as boxing, skating and hockey.

A child’s skeletal system is designed in such a way that after an injury, the injured bone can cause changes which can lead to stunted growth or even permanent damage if not properly treated. Fortunately, the enormous fracture healing potential in children helps to reform the broken bone easily.

Childhood sports injuries occur when playing indoor or outdoor sports or while exercising. Causes include accidental injuries, inadequate training or practice, and improper or inadequate use of protective devices. The most common sports injuries in children are soft-tissue injuries and head injury. Some injuries can be minor such as bruises or sprains while others can be devastating with permanent injury sustained.

Childhood sports injuries can be classified as follows:

Sprains and Strains

Sprain is a condition where the ligament, the band of tissue that joins two bones, is injured. The ankle is the mostcommon site for sprains.

Strain is caused by any injury to a muscle or tendon, the cord-like tissue which connects muscle to bone.

Growth Plate Injuries

Growth plate injuries occur when the area at the end of the long bones, the growth plate, is damaged. In children, this area is soft and once growth is complete, it is replaced by solid bone.

Repetitive Motion Injuries

Repetitive motion injuries are caused by overuse of tendons and muscles. These include stress fractures, hairline fractures which are subjected to continuous stress, and tendinitis, inflammation of the tendon. Repetitive motion injuries can cause severe pain and discomfort.

Heat-Related Illnesses

Heat-related illnesses include dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Dehydration is excessive loss of body fluids from not replacing fluids lost from perspiration. Heat exhaustion causes dizziness, weakness, normal or low body temperature, and fainting. Heat stroke symptoms include hot dry skin, headache, and dizziness leading to vascular collapse, coma, and even death.

Causes of sports injuries in children include the following:

  • The slower reaction time in children makes them susceptible to sports related injuries.
  • Poor sports training or inadequate practice contribute to childhood sports injuries.
  • Lack of adequate protection or improper use of protective devices such as mouth guards and headgear.
  • Insufficient stretching or warm-up exercising before playing sports.

The risk factors that increase the chances of sustaining a sports injury in children include the following:

  • Growth Spurts: During periods of growth spurts, the bones lengthen while the muscles and tendons become less flexible as they are stretched tight until they have a chance to grow as well. This predisposes the child to injury if proper stretching exercises are not done before and after the sport.
  • Use of improper protective equipment and unfavourable environmental conditions increase the risk of an injury.
  • Poor Nutrition: Eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet is important to keep kids at their best while participating in sports.

Treatment for sports injuries varies with the type of injury. The most common treatment recommended for injury is rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE). If there is severe injury such as a head injury, broken bone, excessive swelling or severe pain, you should seek immediate medical treatment.

Treating Injuries with “RICE”

Rest: You should not move or use the injured part of the body for at least 48 hours. For example if you have a leg injury, avoid standing or walking.

Ice: An ice-pack should be applied over the injured area four to eight times a day, for 20 minutes each time. You can use a cold pack or crushed ice wrapped in a towel. Ice packs reduce swelling and relieve pain.

Compression: Compression of the injured area helps to reduce swelling. Elastic wraps, air casts, splints and special boots can accomplish this.

Elevation: Place the injured part above heart level to reduce swelling. Elevation of an injured leg can be done using a pillow.

Some ways that parents can help prevent sports injuries in children include:

  • Enroll children in organized sports activities conducted in schools that have trained coaches. Organized sports programs may have Certified Athletic Trainers who have immense training in prevention, recognizing and providing emergency care for sports injuries.
  • It is important to make sure your child uses suitable, properly fitted protective gear for the particular sports activity to reduce the chances of injury.
  • Warm up and cool down exercises before and after sports activity should be routine for your child. Exercises stretch the muscles, increase flexibility, and reduce soft tissue injuries.
  • Children should drink at least 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes when participating in sports. Encourage your child to drink more water and wear a hat to protect from the heat of the sun rays.

Other Sports Injuries List

  • Australian Orthopaedic Association
  • Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
  • The Children's Hospital at Westmead
  • University of New South Wales
  • The University of Sydney logo
  • Australian Paediatric Orthopaedic Society – APOS
  • Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network  - SCHN
  • Australian Medical Association – AMA
  • Ramsay Health
  • The University of Notre Dame