A report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that more American youths are participating in sports than ever before. While taking part in sports is an important part of healthy physical and mental development, sports injuries can and often do occur. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 2.6 million young athletes in the United States seek medical treatment in hospital emergency rooms for sports-related injuries each year. While some injuries are minor, like cuts, scrapes, and bruises, others like head, neck, and spinal cord injuries can be severe and sometimes even disabling.
While all sports carry a risk of injury, sports that require more physical contact have a higher risk for traumatic injury, according to the AAP. The most common types of sports-related injuries are sprains (ligament injuries), strains (muscle injuries), and fractures (bone injuries), and the most common reason for these injuries is overuse. Sports medicine physician at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago Neeru Jayanthi states that overuse injuries can occur due to playing the same sport too often, performing the same movements too often, playing too hard, or playing at too young of an age without adequate time to recover. Recent research conducted by Jayanthi and other colleagues revealed that young athletes who participated in a single sport for more hours a week than years they were old had a 70 percent higher risk of experiencing serious injuries. Other findings from the report include:
- Participation in football resulted in both the highest number of youth sports injuries- approximately 394,350 for 2012, and the highest rate of concussion (traumatic brain injury) approximately 40 per 10,000 young athletes.
- Participation in wrestling resulted in the second-highest concussion rate- approximately 15 per 10,000 young athletes.
- Cheerleading resulted in the third-highest concussion rate- approximately 12 per 10,000 young athletes.
- Participation in ice hockey resulted in the highest percentage of concussions- an alarming 31%, which is a rate of 10 per 10,000.
- The most common areas of the body that were injured were the ankle (15%), the head (14%), the finger (12%), the knee (9%), and the face (7%).
Preventing Sports-Related Injuries
Fortunately, there are steps that parents and coaches can take to help prevent the risk of sports-related injuries.
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- Protective Gear: Parents and coaches should require young athletes to wear the proper protective gear that is recommended for their sport (helmets, pads, guards, etc.) and remind children that they should never assume that such protective gear will keep them protected when performing riskier or more dangerous activities. Avoid protective gear that is worn out, broken, or fits improperly.
- Rest and Recover: Studies have shown that getting rest during games and practices can help reduce the risk of injuries from overuse and overexposure to heat and humidity. If soreness or other signs of injury develop, encourage youths to allow adequate time to heal before returning to their sport.
- Technique: Ensure that children are using the proper techniques when participating in their sport to help reduce the risk of injury. Teach them to tackle safely, throw the ball properly, and use the proper form.
- Strengthen Muscles and Increase Flexibility: Conditioning exercises during practice, and stretching exercises during practice and before and after a game can increase endurance and performance while helping to prevent the risk of sports-related injuries.
- Recognize Symptoms: Watch for symptoms of fatigue, dehydration, or pain and stop or take a break from the activity immediately when those symptoms appear.
- Avoid Heat Illness: Wear appropriate clothing, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid overdoing it when temperatures soar or there is high humidity.
Physical injuries aren’t the only issues young athletes face. Unfortunately, many parents and coaches are so focused on winning that they don’t realize the pressure that they are putting on their children. Such pressure can result in severe emotional stress, low self-esteem, and even depression. Additionally, the risk for depression and poor self-esteem is even higher after a young athlete experiences a physical injury.
While some sports-related injuries can be prevented by following the proper guidelines, a disturbing number of injuries are not due to the actions of the athlete himself but instead are caused by the actions or negligence of others. Serious injuries can result in extensive medical bills, significant amounts of pain and suffering, and sometimes even permanent disability. Additionally, many parents and caregivers must take time off from work to care for an injured young athlete, resulting in lost wages. When young athletes are injured, it is essential that they seek treatment from a medical professional as soon as possible. If the actions or negligence of another individual could be responsible for the injuries, parents should seek the advice of an experienced personal injury attorney to determine if compensation for their injuries can be obtained.