When my 9-year old nephew recently suffered a concussion from a skateboarding injury, it was really scary. Even though he was wearing all the right equipment, he collided hard enough with another skater that he ended up in the ER—with a concussion diagnosis. For three days he was ordered to rest and avoid any physically or mentally demanding activities (try telling that to a very active boy!). Even after following the proper instructions, it’s impossible to know if there will be any lasting effects.
With the beginning of school sports season in full swing, the Boston Globe Magazine included an infographic on children’s sports injuries last week. It’s statistics were surprising. Sports that I would normally considered the most dangerous (ie, football and hockey) were trumped by soccer and basketball as the reason children ages 5-17 visited Boston Children’s Hospital. Also, it appears girls are more susceptible to injuries and the lower body (legs/knees) is the most likely to be hurt.
Regardless of how or where injuries occur, the answer is not to take your kids out of sports altogether. According to studies, playing sports has been show to improve their health, help them make friends, positively impact their self-esteem, help them succeed at school and prompt them to become more active with their family.
So, what can we do as parents and caregivers to protect our children? SafeKids Worldwide recommends that athletes and their parents educate themselves on sports injury prevention and put what they learn into practice. They should also support coaches and officials in making decisions to prevent serious injuries.
To reduce risk of injury, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests parents help their children do the following:
Take time off. Plan to have at least 1 day off per week from a particular sport to allow the body to recover.
Wear the right gear. Players should wear appropriate and properly fit protective equipment such as pads (neck, shoulder, elbow, chest, knee, shin), helmets, mouthpieces, face guards, protective cups, and/or eyewear. Young athletes should not assume that protective gear will protect them from performing more dangerous or risky activities.
Strengthen muscles. Conditioning exercises during practice strengthens muscles used in play.
Increase flexibility. Stretching exercises before and after games or practice can increase flexibility.Stretching should also be incorporated into a daily fitness plan.
Use the proper technique. This should be reinforced during the playing season.
Take breaks. Rest periods during practice and games can reduce injuries and prevent heat illness.
Stop the activity if there is pain.
Avoid heat injury by drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise or play; decrease or stop practices or competitions during high heat/humidity periods; wear light clothing.
When my nephew was recovering from his injury, his biggest concern was “When can I get back on my skateboard?”, and since then, his passion for and skill in the sport continues to grow. He gets a huge amount of pride from learning and perfecting new tricks and his dogged determination have impressed our whole family. These are the kind of benefits sports offer. As parents and caregivers, it’s our jobs to make sure they are played as safely as possible.