By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

A cry jolts the air from across the field. You rise from the bleachers, heart in your throat as you realize your child has been injured. More than 3.5 million children ages 15 and younger are treated for sports-related injuries each year in the United States. Children are more susceptible to sports injuries because they are still developing and growing, and most of these injuries occur during practice rather than during an actual game.

Many elements contribute to sports injuries in children. Some of those elements include equipment that is ill-fitting or too large for the child; the child not stretching and warming up the muscles properly and the lack of strength in the muscles surrounding the joints.

The American Academy of Pediatrics section on sports medicine and fitness suggests these tips on how your child can avoid sports injuries:

 

· Choose sports that are age-appropriate. The AAP recommends that children be at least 6 years old before playing team sports.

· Before beginning a sport, get into shape. Get a physical exam and talk to your pediatrician about a conditioning program. Conditioning may include stretching, endurance training and aerobic exercise.

· Prepare for activity with warm-up exercises and end with cool-down exercises.

· Don't overdo it. Start out slowly with any new physical activity and gradually increase your training program or activity. Take time off from playing if tired or in pain.

· Stay well hydrated by drinking enough water or sports drinks. Dehydration can cause fatigue and increase the chance of injury.

· Wear athletic shoes that fit well and are in good condition.

• If injured, see a pediatrician right away. 

If the injury is orthopedic in nature, the "RICE" method should be used to treat the injury until your child is able to see their pediatrician:

 

· Rest - reduce the use or stop using the injured area for at least 48 hours. A leg injury might require your child to stay off it completely.

· Ice - put an ice pack, ice bag or plastic bag of crushed ice on the injury for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.

· Compression - ask your pediatrician if compression should be used to reduce swelling of an injured ankle, knee or wrist.

• Elevation - keep the injured area elevated to help decrease swelling. A pillow can be used to help elevate an injured leg or arm. 

We will visit head injuries and blunt abdominal trauma in another article on sports injuries.

Teamwork, fun, discipline and coordination are all excellent reasons to encourage our children to participate in sports; and while we want them to be active in sports that will benefit them for life, we want them to be safe in their play.
Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children's special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB. This column is not intended to replace the advice of a physician.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.