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Gear Up for Safety

Protect against sports injuries

Playing sports can increase a child’s physical coordination, fitness and self-esteem. It also teaches important lessons about teamwork and self-discipline and can lay the groundwork for lifelong exercise habits.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, sports participation is on the rise. In fact, nearly three quarters of American households with school-age children have at least one child who plays organized sports. Unfortunately, participation is not the only thing that has seen an increase. More than 3.5 million U.S. children ages 14 and younger receive medical treatment for sports-related injuries annually.

“Children are more susceptible to injuries because they are still growing and gaining motor and cognitive skills,” says Dr. Manuel Carmona, an emergency medicine physician in St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital’s Steinbrenner Emergency/Trauma Center for Children.

Carmona adds that it’s important for parents to set realistic expectations for children about sports and understand how to help them prepare properly, prevent injuries and play safely.
The most common types of sport-related injuries in children are sprains, muscle strains, bone or growth plate injuries and heat-related illness. Although rare, brain injury is the leading cause of sports-related death to children.
Carmona notes that some sports are more dangerous than others.

“Contact sports, such as football, will likely result in a higher number of injuries than a non-contact sport such as swimming,” says Carmona. “However, all sports have the potential for injury and the best way to prevent it is to use every piece of protective equipment required and play by the rules.”

St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital recommends these precautions for all children playing or practicing any individual or team sport:

  • Before signing up for a sport, get a general physical exam.
  • Be sure all protective gear is the right size and properly adjusted.
  • Make sure responsible adults know and enforce the safety rules of the sport, are present to provide supervision, and are trained in first aid and CPR. Also, make sure the field is in safe condition.
  • Never play through an injury. Get immediate help from a coach or trainer and be sure to mention everything that hurts or aches.
  • Follow the rules. In most sports, the rules are based not only on sportsmanship, but safety.
  • Stay hydrated. Children absorb more heat from the environment than adults, but they do not dissipate as much heat through sweating. As a result, kids can get overheated very quickly. Be sure to drink plenty of water or electrolyte sports drinks before, during and after the activity, and rest frequently during hot weather.

Most sports-related injuries occur during practices and the majority are due to falls, collisions, overexertion or being struck with an object. Fortunately, getting hurt doesn’t have to be part of the game. Research suggests that half of all injuries sustained while playing sports can be prevented with proper use of safety gear, changes to the playing environment and the establishment of safe sports rules.

Visit for more information on how to keep your kids safe on and off the playing field.

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