By: Alison Brooks, MD, MPH, FAAP
Sports help children and teens keep their bodies fit and feel good about themselves. Kids can enjoy the camaraderie and excitement of athletic events while developing new skills.
To keep sports safe and fun for kids, here are some tips to help prevent common injuries among youth athletes.
Common youth sports injures
The most frequent sports injuries among U.S. children and teens include:
sprains (injuries to ligaments)
strains (injuries to muscles)
growth plate irritation (apophysitis)
stress fractures (injury to bone) caused when an abnormal stress is placed on tendons, joints, bones and muscle
In a growing child, point tenderness over a bone should be evaluated further by a medical provider—even if there is minimal swelling or limitation in motion.
Playing a variety of age-appropriate sports
All sports have a risk of injury. In general, the more contact in a sport, the greater the risk of a traumatic injury. However, most injuries in young athletes are due to
overuse. As pediatricians, we advise young athletes to avoid specializing in one sport. It's best to play a variety of sports to avoid injuries we often see with overuse.
Parents can play a big role in helping to prevent common injuries by encouraging their children to play sports that are appropriate for their age, development and physical abilities.
More tips to reduce the risk of youth sports injuries
Take time off. Plan to have at least 1 day off per week and at least one month off per year from training for a particular sport. This allows the body to recover.
Wear the right gear. Players should wear appropriate and properly fit protective equipment such as pads (neck, shoulder, elbow, chest,
mouthpieces, face guards, protective cups and eyewear. However, young athletes should not assume that protective gear will prevent all injuries while performing more dangerous or risky activities.
Strengthen muscles. Conditioning exercises during practice
strengthens muscles used in play.
Increase flexibility. Stretching exercises after games or practice can increase flexibility. Stretching should also be incorporated into a daily fitness plan.
Use the proper technique. This should be reinforced during the playing season.
Play safe. Strict rules against headfirst sliding (baseball and softball), spearing (football) and checking (in
hockey) should be enforced.
Stop the activity if it hurts. Don't play or exercise thorugh the pain.
Take breaks. Rest periods during practice and games can reduce injuries and prevent
Drink plenty of
fluids before, during and after exercise or play to avoid dehydration; decrease or stop practices or competitions during
high heat/humidity periods; wear light clothing.
Sports-related emotional stress
pressure to win can also cause significant emotional stress for a child. Young athletes should be judged on effort,
sportsmanship and hard work. They should be rewarded for trying hard and for improving their skills rather than punished or criticized for losing a game or competition. The main goal should be to have fun and learn lifelong physical activity skills.
About Dr. Brooks
Alison Brooks, MD, MPH, FAAP, is chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. She is a tenured Professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine & Public Health, Department of Orthopedics, Division of Sports Medicine. Dr. Brooks serves as the primary team physician for UW Badger women's ice hockey and the Madison Radicals ultimate team, and also as the Associate Director of Concussion and Nutrition Research for the Badger Athletic Performance Program. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast who enjoys hiking, skiing, kayaking and biking with her family.