Physical forms turned in. Tryouts complete. Your child secured a coveted spot on this season’s roster—and then it happens. First game of the season, he throws out his arm in the third inning or she sprains her ankle as she dribbles down the soccer field.
More than 3.5 million kids under age 14 are sidelined by sports injuries every year. But there are steps your young athlete can take to help prevent them. UNC physical therapist Jeff O’Laughlin, PT, DPT, offered these five tips for youth sports injury prevention.
1. Avoid early sports specialization.
While you may feel pressure to keep your star athlete playing his or her favorite sport year-round to keep them at the top of their game, Dr. O’Laughlin says early sports specialization greatly increases the chances of injury.
“If you specialize early in a sport and don’t allow for proper rest and recovery, especially in the offseason, it can increase your risk for an overuse injury,” Dr. O’Laughlin says.
As opposed to playing the same sport all year, getting involved in other activities during the offseason can reduce the risk of overuse and repetitive strain injuries. For example, a soccer player might want to get involved in an activity that doesn’t emphasize footwork. Have your son or daughter trade their soccer cleats for a swim team cap or golf irons.
2. Be careful during practice.
Just as many injuries happen during practice as in games, if not more.
“A lot of injuries happen in practices because kids do not wear the same gear as they do during games,” Dr. O’Laughlin says.
Working on technique during practice is important, but your child should take the same safety measures as he or she would in a game. “Putting the time into preventing injury is the best way not to miss time from doing an activity that they enjoy,” Dr. O’Laughlin says.
And if they do get hurt during a scrimmage, encourage your child to talk to his or her coach.
“Most people in practice are going to push through that because they just don’t want to be seen as injured or hurt and miss playing in a game,” Dr. O’Laughlin says.
3. Watch for changes in your child.
Pay attention to how your child is feeling. It’s normal to be sore or have muscle fatigue, but if he or she seems like they are in pain, make sure they rest.
“Pain is a signal to your body that it’s not liking some type of load or force you are putting it through, so ignoring it isn’t the best thing,” Dr. O’Laughlin says.
4. Give time to heal after an injury.
Similarly, if children hurry back to a sport without giving their bodies time to fully heal, they risk serious or even permanent injury.
“If you rush back too soon, you risk reinjury or making the injury worse, and then you have to start your recovery all over again,” Dr. O’Laughlin says. “Proper recovery, rest and healing is the best bet to get back to what you enjoy.
5. If your child is feeling off, see an expert.
If your child gets hurt, see a specialist who can help you determine the best way to treat the injury.
“If your child has an injury, we would rather see them a couple of times and teach them what they’re supposed to do rather than waiting for it to become something more serious because they did not get the correct treatment the first time.”
To learn more about sports injury prevention, talk to your doctor. If you need a doctor, find one near you.