How can parent's help in preventing sports injuries?

In clinic, we are seeing an increase in sports injuries following the holidays as children return to their sports, often after a 6 week break and usually with an additional growth spurt! So why are children getting injured, what injuries do we tend to see and as parents, can we do anything to minimise any risk involved? This is a huge topic and the following is a brief overview..

Causes

Children get injured for all sorts of reasons, both due to their physical make up and other external factors, including;

  •  Immature tissues that are often put under a lot of strain
  •  Growth spurts, causing muscle imbalance and decreased flexibility
  • Morphology; we tend to group children by chronological age, but children vary greatly in  size and strength resulting in a mismatch in contact sports
  • Poor and inadequate equipment or training conditions and surfaces
  • Poor technique and lack of basic screening
  • Intense, repetitive training and high expectations (and sometimes pushy coaches or parents)
  • Inadequate warm ups and cool downs
  • Pressure between Club and School sports


These factors may cause injuries that we can categorise into 2 types;

1. Acute injury
Due to a single traumatic event such as dislocation, muscle strain or ligament sprain or tear; there are more reported ACL tears than ever before, particularly in football. 

Fractures of bones or the growth plate; growth plates are the areas at the ends of long bones where bone growth occurs and are much weaker than the ligament and tendons surrounding it; trauma resulting in badly sprained ligaments in adults are more likely to result in growth plate fractures in children under 14 years.

2.  Overuse injury
These are caused by repeated micro trauma to a growth area and are often harder to detect but result in pain and swelling particularly after activity, but relieved with rest.  The most common injuries we see are, Severs disease ( 9-12 years) presenting with pain and inflammation in the heel at the insertion of the Achilles tendon and Osgood Schlatters (11-14 year olds) which is similar but involves pain just below the kneecap where the patella tendon attaches. (I plan to talk about these common injuries in a future blog).Stress fractures can occur following repetitive trauma to normal bone that is not conditioned to the stress, more commonly in the lower limbs and particularly in sports involving running and jumping.

Injury Prevention/Reduction: 
By understanding the potential risks, observant parents can take steps to help reduce the risk of an injury;

  • Regularly check any protective equipment your child uses isn't damaged and still fits them and is always used! Ensure boots and trainers fit well and are suitable for each specific sport.
  •  Warm ups and cool downs are crucial (but much under used) and it is important to get children into a lifelong habit.
  • Allow them to play at their own intensity and pace
  • Expose children to a wider variety of sports rather than encouraging early specialisation in one specific sport
  •  Ensure they are properly conditioned for a sport before they start playing; many injuries occur at the start of a new season
  • Allow adequate rest between training sessions, remember to add PE at school into the equation along with their out of school sports. 
  • Check there is adequate, qualified adult supervision
  • Ensure your child knows the rules of a sport and sticks to them
  • Recognise injury, STOP and respond to it

Children are not mini adults and many of their injuries are related to their growth processes.  Fortunately, most injuries are mild and children tend to recover quickly. However, should they suffer an injury it is important to get a quick diagnosis and treatment to prevent them from developing a larger chronic problem, which could lead to a child being unable to participate in their chosen sport.