Preventing Sports Injuries

Preventing Sports Injuries

How to keep kids safe while they’re having fun.

As students prepare to return to school, one activity many look forward to is sports. While the benefits of athletic activities are numerous, however, so are injuries.

Statistics released by Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization dedicated to preventing injuries in children, show that more than 38 million U.S. children and adolescents ages 19 and under participate in sports each year. More than 2.6 million of those children were seen in emergency rooms for injuries related to sports and recreation.


Dr. Derek Ochiai treats a young patient at the Nirschl Orthopaedic Center in Arlington. More than 2.6 million children sustain sports-related injuries that require emergency care each year.

“I believe the benefits of sports participation far outweigh the risks. Injuries will never be 100 percent preventable and are part of sports. However, many youth sports injuries are preventable with some common sense,” said Shane V. Caswell, Ph.D., professor and Athletic Training Education Program executive director at the Sports Medicine Assessment, Research & Testing (SMART) Laboratory at George Mason University in Fairfax.

The most common sports-related issues are sprains (mostly ankle), muscle strains, bone or growth plate injuries, repetitive motion injuries and heat-related illnesses.

“Children’s bones are more pliable than adults’, and injuries that might just cause a sprain in an adult could cause a fracture in a child,” said Dr. Derek Ochiai, Hip Arthroscopy & Sports Medicine at the Nirschl Orthopaedic Center in Arlington. “If the child refuses to bend their wrist or elbow or cannot put weight on their leg, then this should be urgently seen by a physician, whether in the emergency room or in the doctor’s office, within a day of the injury.”

Ochiai said sports are ideal for developing a child’s coordination and helping them learn teamwork and perseverance. However, he continued, all sports carry a risk of injury. “The most common sports associated with injuries include football, basketball, baseball/softball and soccer,” he said. “Any sport that involves colliding with another player does increase the risk of injury.”

PARENTS, GUARDIANS AND CARETAKERS can take active roles in helping to prevent injuries, said Caswell. “To help ensure that their children are safe, parents need to take ownership of their child’s safety,” he said. “We can begin with the first question parents should ask when choosing a youth league or sports association: Who in the organization is responsible for league safety and what is the plan?”

Youth sports organizations should take precautions to ensure safety, continued Caswell. “It need not be someone with medical knowledge, but it should be a concerned parent or volunteer who makes safety the number one priority.”

Parents should then ask to see the league’s youth safety policies and procedures manual and emergency action plans specific to all venues where the children will practice and compete, he said

“Unfortunately, we have seen too many instances where an emergency situation occurs and no one knows what to do,” Caswell said. “Youth sports organizations should have these policies in place, require that coaches be educated on them and make parents aware that they exist. They should be reviewed annually and practiced regularly so that when an emergency occurs everyone is prepared.”

STRETCHING TO MAINTAIN muscle flexibility is also important to prevent sports injuries in children, said Skye Donovan, Ph.D., associate professor of physical therapy at Marymount University in Arlington.

“As children go through growth spurts, their muscles are at an increased risk of becoming tight and limiting their range of motion, which can pose a problem during sports,” she said. “Strength training is a great way to help children resist injuries. It doesn’t have to be the typical ‘go to the weight room’ type of strength training; children can do sports-specific activities that use their own body weight or resistance bands to help target underdeveloped muscles that might otherwise lead to injuries. Agility training is also helpful to improve sports related skills like coordination, cutting, changing directions and high speed movements.”

Ochiai underscores the importance of using protective gear, including helmets. “Listen to coaches and instructions on technique, and use proper techniques at all times, including with tackling in football,” he said. “Make sure the young athletes stay hydrated, and have access to water frequently. Even at young ages, include appropriate warm up drills prior to starting the activity.”