Sports injury prevention in children

Published: Jun. 5, 2019 at 4:15 PM EDT
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It's not about winning but how you played the game. That's especially true when it comes to preventing sport injuries in children.

A study found out why some young athletes are more likely to get serious injuries than others.

Sports are a great way to keep kids physically active.

"I've played pretty much every single sport besides volleyball," Ruth Marsh said.

"I've played soccer and done ballet," Harmony Nix said.

"I play all the sports," Kishan Jayanthi said.

But more than one-third of injuries in children are sports-related. A researcher from Emory University looked at data from 1,200 young athletes over a three-year period and found that for kids younger than 12, there was a trend.

"Those that specialized were more likely, about 1 ½-times likely, to report an injury," Dr. Neeru Jayanthi said.

Meaning that when childre start specializing too young, bad things happen.

"You have to acknowledge that their risk of injury and burnout is just higher," Jayanthi said.

The study also found that kids are playing more organized sports twice as much as they're playing for fun, which can lead to overuse injuries.

So, what can parents do? Delay sport specialization until their child is 12. But there are more steps parents can take.

"Encourage more seasonal participation, maybe have a three-month period where they're either taking off or resting," Jayanthi said.

Another preventive step is making sure your young athlete is training fewer hours per week than their age.

"So, if you are 14 years old, train less than 14 hours per week," Jayanthi said.

Proper warmups and cool-downs are critical.

"Especially as I get older and matches and everything is a little more intense, a little more physical, it's important to make sure your body can like keep up with that," Ruth said.

But the most important thing is just to have fun.

One interesting thing from the data that the researchers found was that children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds actually reported more injuries than children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The researcher suggests that kids from higher socioeconomic backgrounds had more resources to play organized sports more often, which could lead to more serious overuse injuries.



BACKGROUND: In the United States, about 30 million children and teens participate in some form of organized sports and they experience more than 3.5 million injuries each year. Almost one-third of all injuries suffered in childhood are sports-related injuries. By far, the most common injuries are sprains and strains. High school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year. Overuse injuries are responsible for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle and high school students. Some sports are more dangerous than others. For example, contact sports such as football can be expected to result in a higher number of injuries than a noncontact sport such as swimming. However, all types of sports have a potential for injury, whether from the trauma of contact with other players or from overuse or misuse of a body part. (Source: and

PREVENTION AND TREATMENT: The best way to prevent injury during sports is to ensure that young athletes play on the appropriate surface. High-impact indoor sports, such as basketball and gymnastics, should be performed on a type of floor designed to absorb force, and outdoor playing fields should be well-maintained. Young athletes should also stretch and ensure muscles are properly warmed up before exercise, use the right protective equipment and gear for the sport, such as mouth guards and helmets, seek expertise from an athletic trainer about proper techniques, and stay hydrated and get plenty of sleep. It's also a good idea for athletes to mix up their activities so they use a variety of muscles and prevent overuse from excessive, repetitive movements. If young athletes complain of pain that doesn't get better after three months, it's important for them to see a pain medicine specialist, such as a physician anesthesiologist, who is an expert at diagnosing and treating chronic pain. Talk to a pain medicine specialist about treatment options, and ask about combination therapy, one of the most effective ways to treat pain. (Source:

FOCUSING ON ONE SPORT TOO YOUNG: A study published in the journal Sports Health found that besides increased risk of injury, sports specialization too young can lead to psychological stress and an increased likelihood that children will drop out of sports completely before reaching their potential. Dr. Philip Agostinelli is board-certified in sports and orthopedic medicine and the clinic manager at Florida Hospital Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. He says the trend to start having children specialize in one sport means an increase in the number of younger patients he's seeing with sports-related injuries. "Playing just one sport year round is leading to higher injuries in young people, particularly with sports like baseball with repetitive movements," Agostinelli says. Patrick J. Cohn, PhD, is a sports psychology coach at Peak Performance Sports in Orlando who says that specializing too early or allowing a sport too much weight in the life of a young person can have negative effects beyond the physical. "Parents might emphasize the sports role over other areas of their kids' lives, and then those athletes define themselves through their athletic endeavors," he says. "I work with a lot of perfectionist athletes and sports seems to encourage this." (Source: