Parents can take simple steps to reduce chance of sports injuries

April 17, 2013
SPRINGFIELD – According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 2.6 million children up to the age of 19 are treated in the emergency room each year for sports and recreation-related injuries.

This, say physicians at Doctors Express Urgent Care Centers in Springfield and West Springfield, is a number that could be reduced if steps are taken to protect children before sending them out to compete.

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), part of the National Institutes of Health, the most common sports-related injuries are those to the knees and Achilles tendons, sprains and strains, swollen muscles, fractures, dislocations, and shin splints. Also on the increase are concussions, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting a 60 percent rise in the number of sports and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) among children and adolescents over the past decade. Furthermore, the CDC estimates that while almost four million sports-related concussions are recognized every year, many times more go unrecognized.

"Children are not miniature adults," Dr. Marie Vitale, medical director of Doctors Express, said.

"Their bodies are still growing and their growth plates – the areas of developing cartilage where bone growth occurs – are weak. They are far more susceptible to bone, muscle, tendon and ligament injuries than adults," she added.

So what is a parent to do? With most injuries the result of accidents, poor training practices, or improper use of gear and equipment, Doctors Express strongly advises families, athletes, and coaches to take the following steps:

• Make sure each child has a pre-participation physical evaluation every year prior to starting practice, and baseline testing to assess his or her balance and brain function. The results from baseline testing can be used for comparison during the season if an athlete has a suspected concussion.

• Make sure each child wears protective gear appropriate for the sport. This may include helmets, shin guards, mouth guards, ankle braces, footwear that fits properly, eye protection, and sunscreen.

• See that children remain hydrated during practices and games.

• Emphasize the importance of warming up and stretching. As little as 15 minutes of warm-ups such as jogging or walking can help loosen up cold muscles before play begins. Stretching conditions and lengthens muscles while increasing blood flow, helping to protect joints and muscles against wear and tear.

• Dispel the myth that "playing through" pain is an indicator of strength. Allowing a child to continue playing when they are in pain can cause long-term damage and make it much harder for the athlete to return to play.

If their child is injured, Doctors Express says a quick response can have a direct impact on the rate of recovery. Parents should bring their child in for a medical diagnosis right away and follow through on suggested treatment.

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