When the Youngsters Get Moving, Be Prepared to Prevent and Treat Injuries

When the Youngsters Get Moving, Be Prepared to Prevent and Treat Injuries

“Why don’t you go outside and play,” is a mother’s typical hint to get the kids off their lazy bottoms and out of the house in hopes they’ll work out more than just their fingers on the remote control, computer or video game console.

However, getting children off the couch and onto the playgrounds and playing fields is not without its hazards. Although sports can be fun, improve physical fitness and promote sportsmanship and discipline, they can also be dangerous.

Let’s start by facing the obvious: Parents have to accept the fact that kids will have minor cuts and bruises, whether it’s from falling off a bicycle or scraping a knee while playing kickball. That’s nothing a tube of Neosporin, a cartoon bandage and an encouraging pat on the back can’t cure.

There may also be the big boos-boos, requiring a visit to the doctor or a trip to the hospital (along with more cartoon bandages and even more pats on the back).

Sudden jumps, twists and turns can lead to a series of ouches, cracks and pops; words and noises you dread to hear while sitting on those rickety bleachers at the Saturday morning pee-wee game.

Injuries can cover a wide range, but most likely your child will be facing a sprain or strain.

“Those are the most common injuries,” said Alan Morales, an athletic trainer at Leon High School and parent of a 10-year-old son who is active in sports.

A strain damages a muscle or a tendon. Muscle tissue produces movement, while a tendon is a tough tissue that connects the muscle to the bone. Sprains are injuries to ligaments, the strong tissue that holds joints together.
“Different sports stress different parts of the body,” said Dr. Floyd Jaggears, orthopedic surgeon at Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic.

In football, he said head injuries, such as concussions, and neck injuries concern him the most because of the aggressiveness of the sport. Track can cause tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendon. Shoulder and elbow injuries are often seen in baseball and softball.

“Regardless of what you do, if you’re playing a sport, you’re pushing your body to the limit,” Morales said. “The head injuries are probably the scariest because the person is unconscious and (they’re) not giving me feedback.”
Fast-moving sports that involve rigorous twisting and turning of joints, such as basketball and soccer, can cause strains of tendons or sprains of ligaments.

Most injuries occur during practice and are caused by collisions, improper use of safety equipment or poor mechanics.

Identifying Injuries

There are two types of injuries: acute and overuse.

Acute injuries result from a sudden force, immediately resulting in swelling, bleeding, weakness and intense pain or tenderness.

Overuse injuries occur over time and are commonly caused by continuous use of a particular body part. According to the Stop Trauma Overuse Prevention campaign [STOP], initiated by the American Orthopedic Society of Sports Medicine, overuse injuries are the result of repetitive trauma to the bones, joints and tendons. Improper training is the usual cause and can happen to people returning to a sport after being hurt or those pushing themselves beyond their capabilities.

“Any time you’re pushing the body beyond the point it can repair itself, you’re going to end up with an overuse injury,” said Jaggears.

Overuse injuries are mostly seen in younger kids who are pushed harder than they need to be. “They all have their sprains and strains, but a lot of times the younger kids will have more fractures and the older population will have fractures but more ligament injuries,” he said.

But ligament injuries can be just as severe as fractures.

Jaggears said in adolescents, a ligament will tear and, depending on where it is located, will have to be restructured. Younger children’s ligaments are stronger than their bone and will pull off a piece of bone, causing fractures. Although sometimes a fracture is easier to repair than a ligament, the orthopedist said both injuries can be bad.

Overuse injuries are seen less often in high school and college levels because the training environment is more controlled and most athletes are conditioned year around for their sport. “The coaches tend to better understand the importance of gradual increase in training at that level,” said Jaggears.

Most injuries can be handled using the RICE method — rest, ice, compression and evaluation. However, some may require more intense treatment.

“A severe sprain may require bracing or casting,” said Jaggears, “and a more severe sprain might require surgery.” Severe sprains, often referred to as tears, tend to occur more with older children, he added.

Healing Wounds

Sterile bandaging and antibiotic ointment can take care of most cuts. The wound must be kept clean until it heals.
“A neglected wound can get infected,” said Jaggears. “It can cause a localized infection at the site of the cut, or the bacteria can get into the blood and carry the infection to other parts of the body.”

If the wound is deep and gaps open, stitches will be needed. Jaggears said most lacerations can be handled at an urgent care center, but if it is a soft tissue injury that is deformed, dirty or mangled, it’s better to go to the emergency room.

If major surgery is required, a rehabilitation program immediately follows. Rehab helps kids get back into action through therapy, exercise and other devices such as ultrasound that uses heat to relieve pain and enhance healing.
Morales puts his athletes through a series of treatments, including RICE, motion exercises and weight training, depending on the severity of the injury.

“Pain is one of our primary indicators on how we’re going to go,” said Morales. “We always look out for the safety of the kid. We do want them to enjoy that sport for the rest of their life.”  

Most treatment takes place at home. Just think of yourself as the nurse assisting the doctor and your child is your primary patient. You can observe swelling and manage light workouts. Once diagnosed, most doctors provide detailed instructions on how to treat the injury and, as a parent and “temporary nurse,” your job is to follow them.

Be on the lookout for swelling, joint stiffness, numbness and intense pain that continues past the projected healing rate. When it comes to children’s health, no precaution is a dumb precaution. Don’t hesitate to take your child back to the doctor.

Proper Equipment and Activity Surfaces

It’s important for kids to use equipment and safety gear that fits well and is designed for their age group. “You want to make sure they [kids] have the proper equipment for that sport,” said Morales.

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) certifies major sports equipment for usage and safety. According to Dave Halstead, NOCSAE technical director, the equipment is put through various scientific tests. Test scores must meet certain standards that are deemed acceptable at reducing the risk of injury.
Halstead said parents must know that the equipment used by their child is the proper equipment for that sport and has been certified for that use.

Playing surfaces must also be checked for holes, cracks or anything that may cause kids to slip or fall. “You always want to make sure the surface is safe enough to play on,” said Morales.

If your youngster is involved in a contact sport such as football or wrestling, make sure he or she is sporting a mouth guard. Yes, they can be uncomfortable and it could make their mouth pucker like a wide-eyed goldfish, but they’re custom-fit and could save you a trip or two to the dentist. Mouth injuries are more likely to occur on the playground than while playing a sport, because most teams make it mandatory to wear a mouth guard.

If your child takes a bop to the choppers and knocks out a tooth, immediate action is required.

According to local pediatric dentist Dr. Stanley Shephard, if a tooth is knocked out, don’t panic. Pick up the tooth by the top and rinse it (do not scrub) with warm water. If your kid is a trooper and you have the guts to do it, put the tooth back into the socket and see a dentist. If not, put the tooth in milk to keep it moist and take it and your child to the dentist within 30 minutes.

“The longer the tooth stays out of the socket, the harder it will be to put back in,” Shephard said. Baby teeth are rejected during the healing process and cannot be put back in.

If the tooth is broken or fractured, the nerve may be injured, but your dentist can treat it based on the severity of the damage.

By knowing the causes of sports-related injuries and how to prevent them, you can help ensure your child’s sports experience is a safe and less bumpy one.

If your kid wants to try out for a team, encourage them! Do not let your fear of “what if” corrupt their physical ambitions. Instead become knowledgeable on the sport your kids play and be aware of the risks.

Safety First! Quick Tips on Preventing Injury

• Get Checked — Annual physicals by your doctor can determine whether your child is physically fit to participate.

• Eat Right — Consuming the proper amount of nutrients can delay fatigue and fuel your child’s body during activity.

• Stay Hydrated — Water and other sports drinks can reduce the risk of dehydration or other heat-related illnesses.

• Appropriate Training and Conditioning — Warm-up exercises before practice minimize injury. Cool down workouts after practice relax muscles that tightened during playing.

• Proper Adult Supervision — Make sure athletic trainers or another adult knowledgeable about sports injury are on call to catch the accident before it happens.

• Positive Attitude — Having a great attitude ensures a healthy performance, mentally and physically! 

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