Preventing Common Sports Injuries in Children

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Schools are back in session and that means Fall sports are underway. Sports are a great way for kids to learn teamwork, cooperation, discipline, and get the exercise they need to stay healthy. However, there is a downside to participating in sports. One out of three childhood injuries occurs while a child is playing sports. As a certified physical therapist, I have treated dozens of kids for various sports injuries. By knowing the causes of sports injuries and how to prevent them, you can help make athletics an enjoyable experience for your child.

Acute Injuries
Injuries that happen suddenly such as twisted ankles, ACL tears, or concussions fall into the acute injury category. Often the cause of acute injuries is improper equipment and lack of preparation. Loose footwear, improperly fitting helmets, and not properly building up muscle groups are common reasons these injuries occur.

Many physical therapists and sports medicine specialists will usually take a “better safe than sorry” approach to treatment. If an injury is affecting basic functioning in any way, for example, limping due to a knee injury, the child needs first aid immediately such as a splint or other form of immobilization. Your child should see a doctor to receive a proper diagnosis. If an injury is more serious, it is important to take your child to the emergency room as quickly as possible.

Overuse Injuries
Repetitive actions like pitching and throwing can put extreme stress on the bones and muscles. Little Leaguer Elbow is a common overuse injury seen in children. Therefore, you now see the implementation of pitch counts in little leagues across the country. Overuse injuries are especially troublesome in children because these injuries can affect bone growth. All kids involved in sports can develop overuse injuries, but the likelihood of these injuries occurring increases with the amount of time a child spends on the sport.

Some of the most common overuse injuries include shin splints, anterior knee pain, tennis elbow, and swimmer’s shoulder.

If your child is complaining of pain, then there is an issue. Treating overuse injuries begins with rest until your child can see a doctor. The doctor will diagnose the injury and determine the best form of treatment. Diagnosing overuse injuries usually involves x-rays and a physical examination.

Proper Preparation
Kids must be adequately prepared before practices and games. This begins with proper warmup and stretching techniques. By preparing for matches and practices, your child will be less prone to injury. Proper preparation is key to preventing sports injuries and it is important not to send children into a game if they are not ready. For example, if your child is a runner, have them build up their distance and stamina. If your child plays basketball or football, have them work on cutting techniques to build up the muscles in the ankle and knee to prevent injury. Preparation is key to helping prevent injuries and should always be a priority for your young athlete.

Many children playing sports will receive some form of injury over time. The best thing you can do for your child is recognize when they are in pain, get the treatment necessary, and make sure they are taking the right steps when it comes to warmups and preparation for their sport. If your child does suffer an injury, contact your family doctor as soon as possible to prevent further injury from occurring.


Noah Arenson is a partner and Physical Therapist at Contact Physical Therapy in Mesa, Arizona. Arenson earned his Master’s degree at Northern Arizona University’s Physical Therapy program and has been practicing in the Valley since 1997. Noah was named Mesa General Hospital’s “Employee of the Year” in 1999.