One of the most common questions that I am asked, as a school nurse, is how can sports related injuries, concussions in particular, be prevented? With every generation it seems that level of play and competition has increased, resulting in more injuries. Are
these injuries and concussions happening more frequently or have we become more adept at diagnosing them? With about 46.5 million children participating in sports in the United States, it is estimated that there are approximately 3.8 million concussions that occur every year; however only 1 out of 6 will be formally diagnosed and treated, so we clearly still have a long way to go.
It is common knowledge that frequent injuries and concussions occur in high risk sports, such as soccer and football, but they can occur anywhere and you may be surprised at how gentle of a hit to the head can result in a concussion and injury. You add to that the increase in our young athletes' level of play and skill set, growth spurts causing muscles and ligaments to stretch to the point of injury, and it makes sense why we seem to have an increase in sports related injuries and concussions. It may surprise you to know that approximately 60% of all injuries occur during practice and the most common injuries are muscle sprains and tears, growth plate fractures and heat related illness. Here are some things that can be done to prevent these injuries and concussions.
- Before allowing your child to participate in a sport, your child should have a physical performed by their pediatrician or family practitioner to identify any health issues that might result in injuries. Your child should have a physical completed each year to assess them as they grow.
- Make sure to inform the coach of any issues your child may have. It is important to communicate with coaches to ensure your child’s safety. They cannot protect your child while they are on the field if they are unaware of an issue.
- Have your child warm up sufficiently. This is often overlooked and can help prevent injuries. Warm ups should be at least 10 minutes in length, making sure to stretch all muscle groups.
- Provide your child with appropriate sports gear, making sure that it is the right size and fit for them. This can be challenging, given how quickly children grow, but it will help prevent potential dangerous and costly injuries. Gear might include helmets, mouth guards, protective pads, sunscreen and other items.
- Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of common injuries (including concussions) and monitor your child for them. It is important to listen to your child when they have complaints, and follow up with the doctor if needed. When it comes to concussions, it is best to follow the saying “when in doubt, sit it out!”. Children should be immediately removed from play if they sustain a hit and appear dizzy, confused, dazed or complain of a headache, nausea or fatigue. They should not return to play until they have been cleared by a doctor. Recovering from an injury or concussion fully may result in children missing significant playing time.
- Have your child get plenty of rest. Many injuries are due to fatigue and muscle overuse. It is important that your child rests in between games and practices, and has a place to cool down on hot days.
- Hydration! This is vital to the prevention of injuries. We are at a much higher risk
of injury when we are dehydrated due to fatigue and loss of coordination. Make sure that your child drinks at least 30 minutes before play and every 10-20 minutes (more frequently when hot) during play. Speak with your child’s coach to ensure that they are providing ample time for water breaks during practices and games. Do not be afraid to speak up!
Sports play an important role in many children’s lives and builds a pathway to a healthy and active lifestyle and foster the skill of teamwork. Because of this fact, it is so important to make sure that you and your child do what you can to ensure that they can continue to play safely and without injury.