Improvements in the quality of protective equipment—such as padding and helmets—have made sports participation safer than ever before. Even so, children's bodies are still vulnerable to injury. As youngsters move through middle childhood—becoming bigger, stronger, faster, and more aggressive—the incidence of injuries rises. Studies show that each year, 2 to 3 percent of five-to seven-year-olds experience injuries that require more than a few days of rest and recuperation; that figure increases to 5 to 10 percent among nine- and ten-year-olds.
Injury prevention should be a paramount concern. Your child should be wearing a well-fitted helmet, mouthpiece, face guard, padding, eye gear, protective cup, or other equipment appropriate for the sport.
The majority of sports-related injuries involve the body's soft tissues rather than the bones. About two thirds of all injuries are strains (overstretching or overextension of the muscles) and sprains (wrenching of a joint with partial tear of the ligaments).
Many injuries are caused by overuse of or repetitive stress on the affected body part. When a child overdoes it or trains inappropriately—for example, pitching too many innings or throwing improperly—the stress placed on the joints, tendons, and muscles can cause damage.
Overuse injuries can often be prevented by advising your child to stop exercising at the first sign of discomfort. "No pain, no gain" may be a catchy phrase, but it is bad advice. "Slow but sure" makes a lot more sense.
Once an injury occurs, it needs to be properly diagnosed and treated. Even children with injuries that appear to be quite minor may benefit from being examined by a pediatrician. In addition to recommending specific types of treatment, the doctor may suggest that your child reduce the level of athletic participation for a while, allowing the injury to heal while maintaining some use of the injured body part. Improperly treated and incompletely healed sports injuries can set the stage for lifelong problems. Because youngsters in middle childhood are unable to contemplate the future seriously, parents have to be firm to ensure that medical guidelines are followed.
It is also important to identify the cause of the injury before returning to the sport. Was the playing field in bad shape? Was the safety equipment not being used? Was training or fitness not adequate? Was the coaching poor? If parents neglect these factors, injuries are likely to reoccur.
Children in contact sports are much more vulnerable to serious injury, with the knees bearing the brunt of more injuries than any other part of the body. The ankles, shoulders, and elbows are also particularly susceptible to injuries that can put youngsters on the disabled list during the healing process.