Raising Healthy Kids

Sports Injuries & Student Athletes: A Parent’s Guide

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Playing sports is a great way for children of all ages to maintain a healthy lifestyle and learn valuable life lessons, like working as a team, the value of hard work and practice, and confidence. While it may be every sports fanatic’s dream to have their kid make it big time in the arena or on the diamond, sometimes pushing young athletes to be the best at a young age can lead to serious sports injuries that will take them out of the game all together.

“Playing sports is an important aspect of growing up,” says Henry Ford sports medicine physician Eric Makhni, M.D. “However, there is a concern when children are repeatedly using the same part of their body over and over again.”

Nowadays, many kids will start playing one sport at a young age and continue to play that same sport year-round for years. This can be harmful to your child because his or her soft tissue and bone structures aren’t fully developed yet. Excessive use of specific parts of the body can alter growth and lead to serious injuries later in life.

In the past few years, childhood sports injuries have increased. According to the Centers for Disease Control, close to 250,000 kids a year are treated for head trauma injuries caused by sports and recreational activities. Since the early 2000s, this number has increased by over 50 percent. Basketball causes the most injuries among high schoolers, causing 120,000 visits to the emergency room each year for stressed and torn ankle ligaments. In baseball, the Tommy John surgery, a procedure to reconstruct torn ligaments in the elbow after overuse, has also been increasingly used to treat young athletes still in high school.

Concussions and ligament injuries at a young age can cause permanent damage to the body and contribute to memory loss, altered motor functions, and changes in personality or physical performance.

How to prevent sports injuries
Preparing your child appropriately before a sports season begins and supporting them during the season is important. Dr. Makhni offers four key pieces of advice for parents to take a proactive approach to injury prevention for their youth athletes:

  1. Don’t limit your child to one sport. Playing a variety of sports in different seasons is a great way to work different parts of the body. When your child gets older, they can make the transition to playing a single sport they are good at.
  1. Stretch. Make sure your child is stretching properly before they play any sport. It is important that kids stretch both sides of their body equally even if they favor one side in a sport.
  1. Strengthen core muscles. By building up core strength, it will take the pressure of activity off of joints in the arms and legs. It will give them more momentum and can help them improve their performance.
  1. Abide by rest rules. Many schools and sports leagues have rules in place to limit how many teams kids are on or how often they play. Follow these to ensure your child is giving time for their joints and muscles to recover from physical activity.

Sometimes it can be difficult to identify sports injuries. They aren’t always painful. If you or your child’s coach/instructor notices a sudden decline in performance, it may because of an injury.

“Parents should listen to their kids,” says Dr. Makhni. If your child comes to you with pain during a sport, they are usually right about something being wrong. But don’t rely on them coming to you. Some kids won’t be forthcoming in fear of losing playing time or disappointing someone. “Let your kids know it’s okay to take a period of rest.”

And remember, not every kid is cut out to be an athlete. Allow your child to participate in things that they enjoy. “Help them to discover what their passions and interests are,” says Dr. Makhni. “Following passion allows for their highest chance of success.”

From injury prevention to treatment of sports-related conditions, visit henryford.com/sports for an appointment within 24 business hours or to download our sports medicine app, featuring first aid/injury help, videos for all athletes, contact information for physicians and trainers, and more.

Dr. Eric Makhni is a sports medicine orthopedic specialist at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.