Parents guide to preventing sports injuries

Physical activity among children has shown to have positive effects on cardiovascular fitness, skeletal development, and psychological well-being. Further physical activity also helps prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. However, physical activity at any sporting code exposes children to a risk of injury. 

Therefore the need to focus on injury prevention strategies to give children the enjoyment of sports participation, without the burden of injury. As a parent, you can follow these ten steps for reducing the risk of injury among your children.

Gradual exposure to a sport
At the start of a new season, your child needs to take time to ease into the sport. Their bodies need to adapt to the physical demands of the sport. Typically a pre-season is required to build fitness and sharpen up sport-specific skills, progressing to full competitive sports participation.

A sportsperson’s body needs to be trained for the physical demands it will face. Exposing a cross-country athlete directly to rugby will most likely result in an impact-related injury as the cross-country athlete has not yet prepared his body physically for collisions. Again exposing a rugby player directly to cross-country running will most likely result in an overuse injury.

Sport screening
During the screening, a medical professional will search for any possible underlying risk factor for injury. Identifying these risk factors will allow early action to address them and prevent future injury.

Injury prevention programs
Specific exercises targeting muscles and joints at risk for injury should be implemented. A recent review study has shown a 46% reduction in injury rates among youth sport when using an exercise-based injury prevention program. These exercises will differ between sports, as every sport has its own specific physical demands.

Proper equipment
Every sport has its own specific equipment. Incorrect, faulty or lack of equipment can result in injury. For example, a too large cricket bat, worn out running shoes, lack of a gum guard will all increase the risk of injury.

Training and technique
Proper training is needed to prepare for the sport’s physical demands. Coaches play a major role in this department and it’s therefore important to expose a child to settings where proper coaching is involved.

Warning signs
After months of repetitive sports a parent needs to be on the lookout for signs of injury such as a poor sleeping pattern, limping, joint or muscle stiffness, headaches and shortness of breath.
Multiple sport risks
Exposing children to different sports aid in their physical development. However, exposing them to multiple sports in one season can result in fatigue leading to higher risk of injury. Rather focus on one sport per season for optimal sports enjoyment.

Children need time to heal. When injured, make sure they consult with the necessary medical professional. Wait until the full rehabilitation process is completed before returning to sports participation. Early return to play when injured, results in a higher risk for re-injury.

Parental pressure
Allow your child to enjoy a sport. External pressure for performance from parents removes the enjoyment-factor. This will either result in increased effort from the child to perform (leading to potential injury) or scare the child away from the sport (leading to sedentary behaviour).

The above-mentioned steps serve as a guideline for injury prevention among children. For any further questions regarding injury prevention among youth sports, feel free to contact me at the My Health Sports and Medical Centre on (012) 643 1312.

Atay, E. (2014). Prevalence of sports injuries among middle school children and suggestions for their prevention. Journal of Physical Therapy Sciences 26(9):1455-1457.
Hergenroeder, A.C. (1998). Prevention of sports injuries. Paediatrics 101(6):1057-1063.
Levine, N.W. (2011). Calling a timeout on your child’s sports injuries. The Sports Medicine Standards and Malpractice Reporter 60-61.
Rossler, R., Donath, L., Verhagen, E., Junge, A., Schweizer, T. and Faude, O. (2014). Exercise-based injury prevention in child and adolescent sport: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine 44:1733-1748.

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