Parents want to do everything they can to promote their children’s health and fitness. Healthy nutrition, maximizing sleep at night, and steady mental growth and development all help achieve this goal. Increasing physical activity, for example through sports and athletic competition, is also good for their physical fitness and self-esteem. But allowing your child to participate in sports may increase their risk of injury. Understanding the most common injuries will allow you to take precautions to reduce their risk.
General Recommendations On Treating Sports Injuries
Following a sports injury in which there is damage to tissue, the body reacts chemically causing inflammation. Inflammation causes the tissue to swell, and increases blood flow to the area to initiate repair. But inflammation, while helpful, can be both debilitating (pain and swelling) and damaging (tissue damage and arthritis). Many treatments for acute injuries are designed to modulate inflammation. These include:
Ice decreases blood flow and, therefore, swelling. Ice can be applied several times per day for a maximum of thirty minutes each application. Ice is especially helpful in the first three days following an injury. Always wrap the ice in a thin cloth before applying, and not directly against the skin.
With ice, rest is the mainstay of treatment for minor injuries. Rest is very important following an injury, because it allows the body to most efficiently perform its healing. Too much activity risks worsening or reinjuring the body.
Ibuprofen (ie., Advil, Motrin) is both an analgesic (pain killer) and an antiinflammatory agent. It is helpful in the early treatment of injury if ice and rest are not enough. To avoid stomach ache from ibuprofen, remember to take it with food or milk.
Raising an injured body part, particularly a limb, above the level of the heart at midchest can reduce swelling and pain.
Sometimes applying a sling, splint, brace or ace bandage can help compress a wound gently and decrease swelling. It also offers a little support to the injured joint reducing the likelihood of re injuring the tissue. Compression also provides immobilization (rest).
How Do I Know If My Child Can Play A Sport With An Injury?
There are four recognized levels of pain associated with sports related injuries.
The first is pain that occurs after playing. During activity, the athlete expresses no pain, and can participate fully. Only later do they experience aches. This level of pain is common and familiar to all of us. There are no restrictions to play with a level one injury.
In level 2, an athlete experiences some pain while participating, but they are able to fully participate. They can jump as high, run as fast, throw as far with no restraint due to their injury. The athletes should be careful not to reinjure themselves, but there are otherwise no restrictions with this level of pain.
In level 3, the athlete experiences more pain while participating, and can not participate to their full capacity. Professional athletes with this level of pain are sometimes described as being “only 90% for today’s game”. But professional athletes are paid thousands of dollars for each competition. Amateur athletes have no business participating in sports when they are less than 100%. The risk of a serious injury is too great.
Athletes with level four injury have pain all the time and cannot play.
Information About Specific Injuries
The following are some of the more common sports injuries a child might experience. Being able to provide your child with training and special protective equipment might help prevent them from getting hurt or reduce the severity of the injury.
ACL & Other Knee Ligament Tears
The human knee is made up of a complex synergy of tendons and ligaments. When stress is applied to the upper or lower leg at an unnatural angle, the force can partially or completely tear a ligament. The ACL or Anterior Cruciate Ligament is the largest ligament in the knee.
- Symptoms of an ACL or other ligament tear include:
- Instability when walking
- Instability in the knee when turning corners
- Increased swelling in the knee
Some minor ligament tears will heal with rest and time, Others will require a few weeks of physical therapy. However, a complete tear of the ACL often requires reconstructive surgery, which can take 9 to 12 months to fully recover from.
The meniscus is a C-Shaped piece of cartilage in the knee that essentially acts as a shock absorber. An accidental blow or twist in the lower leg can sometimes tear part or a large section of the meniscus. When this happens the athlete often hears or feels a “pop” in the knee.
- Other symptoms of a meniscus tear include:
- Pain when straightening the knee
- Discomfort or limited mobility when bending the knee fully
- A painful popping and swelling
- The knee seems to temporarily “Lock Up.”
With minor meniscus tears, the damage might heal with prolonged rest. A more significant meniscus tear might require surgery and weeks of physical therapy.
Hip Flexor Strains
The hip flexors are a group of muscles found on the upper front side of the thigh. They help to lift the knee toward the torso as well as assist in moving the leg toward and away from the other leg. Individuals who sit a lot are more prone to hip flexor injuries. Sports injuries in the hip
flexors are often caused by sprinting, running inclines, and activities with quick turns and sudden starts.
Common symptoms of a hip flexor strain include things like:
- Pain when raising the leg
- Discomfort when climbing stairs
- Pain when transferring in and out of a car
- Upper leg discomfort when running
- Mild bruising in the upper thigh and groin
- Groin Pulls
The groin muscles run from the inner part of the upper thigh to the inner thigh just above the knee. These muscles help to pull the legs together and are often injured with quick side-to-side movements or a general decrease in flexibility.
Symptoms of a groin injury include:
- Difficulty with lateral movements
- Discomfort getting in and out of cars
- Tenderness in the groin or upper thigh area
- Bruising in the groin or inner thigh
Treating a mild to moderate groin pull calls for rest and icing for 15 to 20 minutes periodically during the first two to three days. After the first three days, they can switch to using heat for 15 to 20 minutes periodically, then proper groin stretching and range of motion exercises can help restore flexibility and stability.
Shin splint is a term used to describe discomfort and stiffness in the muscles around the tibia of the lower leg. They are more common in runners and soccer players. Symptoms tend to worsen with increased activity and are more common early in the season or in a student athlete’s first season trying a new endurance sport. One way to help prevent shin splints is to give your student-athlete quality shoes with good arch support.
Treatment of shin splints includes temporarily reducing the amount of running, applying ice (especially just after running), and elevating your legs when resting. Taking analgesics may also help.
Sciatica is a condition affecting the nerves and muscles of the lower back. It is often described as a pain that travels down the back of the leg or even to the feet. In some cases, it radiates out to cause numbness, burning, and tingling down the leg.
Sciatica is more common in student-athletes who are in a flexed forward posture, this includes cyclists, as well as sports with a lot of trunk rotation such as golf and tennis. It might also be caused by a bulging disc or a pinched nerve after a hard fall on the back.
In some minor cases rest, stretching the back and hamstrings as well as laying on the stomach can help alleviate the symptoms. If pain, numbness, or tingling of sciatica lasts for more than two weeks, you should see a physician.
Hamstring Strains & Tears
The biceps femoris (“hamstring”) is located on the back of the thigh. When stiff or overexerted the hamstring can be susceptible to strains, or tears in the integrity of the muscle. Hamstring injuries are often the result of poor stretching techniques or lack of stretching.
Common symptoms of a hamstring injury in student-athlete include:
- Bruising in the back of the thigh
- Bruising behind the knee
- Tightness in the rear of the leg
- Pain in the rear of the leg
- Reduced mobility
- Discomfort when sitting or standing up from a seated position
Most of the time recovering from a hamstring injury requires rest and icing for a few days. This can then be followed by gentle stretching and strengthening to prevent another injury. A hamstring injury that doesn’t show improvement after 7 to 10 days likely needs a physician’s care, and might also include physical therapy.
Future hamstring injuries might be prevented by improvements in the student athlete’s stretching routine, as well as diligently stretching the hamstring and other leg muscles before participating in sports.
This injury, also known as “golfer’s elbow”, is more common with student-athletes who do a lot of gripping activities. It is often an overuse sports injury known technically as medial or lateral epicondylitis. It affects the tendons of the forearm as they become increasingly inflamed and can also limit mobility in the wrist and hand.
Common symptoms of tennis elbow include:
- A lack of grip strength
- Reduced range of motion in the elbow
- Pain in the wrist & hand
Rest and icing are early treatment options for mild cases of tennis elbow. In a more significant case or a case of tennis elbow that lasts more than 7 to 10 days, a physician might prescribe anti-inflammatory medication, or provide the athlete with a special brace, to try to take pressure off the area. Stretching techniques and other strengthening exercises should be employed as part of a physical therapy regimen for chronic symptoms.
AC Joint Strains & Tears
The AC joint (Acromioclavicular) of the upper portion of the shoulder is responsible for transferring force from the torso to the arm. It can be strained, sprained, or torn to different degrees of severity. A hard fall with the arm extended is one of the more common causes of an AC shoulder joint injury. A hard blow to the shoulder or overuse from a limited range of motion exercise like bench pressing can also damage the AC joint.
Common symptoms of an AC joint injury include:
- Discomfort in the upper shoulder
- Limited mobility when raising the arm
- Pain when lifting the elbow
Minor AC joint injuries often heal on their own with rest and icing. A grade 3 or grade 4 AC injury where the ligament itself is partly or completely torn might need surgical intervention. One of the larger concerns with even a minor AC joint injury is returning to physical activity before the joint has fully healed and inflammation has subsided. This can cause gradual bone deformation, which could later require a distal clavicle resection surgery.
Shoulder Joint Sprains & Rotator Cuff Injuries
The ball and socket of the shoulder joint is a complex compound joint with an impressively wide range of motion. When the connective tissues or muscles of the shoulder joint are injured it can cause significant discomfort and decreased range of motion.
Some of the more common injuries affecting the shoulder joint include:
Rotator cuff sprains & tears
These injuries are often related to hard blows to the shoulder, though the rotator cuff can also be susceptible to problems associated with overuse and inflammationLabrum Tears & Lesions
The connective tissues of the labrum can be partially or completely torn by overuse and physical injuries. This can have a major impact on shoulder stability.
A hard blow to the shoulder or a hard fall can cause the humeral head to disassociate from the socket. The shoulder then needs to be reseated into the joint. Most shoulder dislocations can damage other structures in the shoulder or upper arm muscles.
Ankle sprains are some of the most common sports injuries. Minor ankle sprains often come from rolling or twisting the ankle while running. Though a more significant “High Ankle Sprain” can cause more significant damage to the muscles and connective tissues of the lower leg. Severe ankle sprains are of particular concern with younger student-athletes who are still growing. It is important to make sure a severe ankle sprain is not actually a fracture.
If your youth athlete has a severely sprained ankle to the point that they cannot bear any weight on it, they need to be seen by a physician. Otherwise, minor ankle sprains might require rest and icing with some over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Keeping weight off the ankle with the use of crutches or a stabilizing ankle brace might be necessary to speed the healing process.
Student-athletes in contact sports like football, hockey, and lacrosse are at the highest risk of a concussion caused by a blow to the head. Even soccer players, skiers, mountain bikers, and skateboarders.
High-quality headgear such as state-of-the-art helmets and mouthguards will help reduce the impact on the brain from a blow to the head or a hard fall. Certain sports like football are offering training for coaches who can be “Heads Up” certified to teach tackling techniques that reduce the risk of concussion and other serious injuries.
Student-athletes who suffer a concussion often experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Confusion (feeling slowed down or mentally “foggy”)
- Decreased coordination or balance problems
- Difficulty concentrating, reasoning, or remembering
- Nausea & vomiting
- Sleepiness or drowsiness
- Excessive fatigue
- Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
- Sensitivity to light and/or noise
- Increased anxiety and irritability for no apparent reason
- Feeling sad or more emotional than usual
- Vision problems (double vision, blurring, etc.)
- Numbness or tingling
- Slurred speech
At this time, there is no formal treatment procedure for mild to moderate concussions. Rest is typically the best medicine, and most physicians will recommend that a student-athlete with a concussion physically and mentally rest. This includes limiting activities that require thinking as well as strenuous mental concentration, and all contact with screens and electronic devices, for two to five days after the head injury.
At that point, most schools and athletic associations will implement a concussion protocol to ensure that the student-athlete has fully recovered from the concussion. This might include follow-up examinations with your child’s physician as well as comparing their performance with a baseline test from the start of the season.
After your student-athlete clears the concussion protocol they can slowly return to playing their sport over several days. Make sure they know that they should stop playing right away if any symptoms return, or if they suffer a second blow to the head.