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Kids and Contact Sports: Are they Safe?

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 22 Jun 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
Sports Injury Childhood Sports Injury

We all want our kids to be active and healthy. Participating in athletics has traditionally been considered to be good for kids -- they develop their bodies, gain confidence, establish the habit of an active lifestyle, and learn about sportsmanship. In recent years, however, there has been some controversy about just which types of activities may do more harm than good.

Although there is certainly some risk involved with all forms of sports and activity, the highest rates of injury occur in sports that involve contact and collisions. Children are much more likely to be injured, sometimes seriously, playing soccer or football then when playing tennis. If your child is expressing an interest in playing an organized sport, especially a contact sport, be sure that you take every possible precaution to minimize the risk of injury.

Use Caution

Children are not adults in small bodies. Their bodies are still growing, which makes their bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments more susceptible to injury that those of adults. Children are especially prone to growth plate injuries -- the areas of developing cartilage where bone growth occurs in youngsters are weaker than the nearby ligaments and tendons. What is often a bruise or sprain in an adult can be a potentially serious growth plate injury in a child. Although these injuries are possible in any sport, the especially competitive nature of contact sports can sometimes put children in a position to "play through the pain," which is never recommended.

What You Can Do

  • Schedule a thorough check up with your child's pediatrician to be sure that his overall health and condition are compatible with his chosen sport. Ask the doctor to take a little time to talk to your child about safety as well as fun when it comes to athletic participation.
  • Choose well-tested safety gear that is the correct size for your child; helmets and other protective items will not guard against injury if they are not properly fitted. Also, be sure to check that the items your child uses have not been recalled by the manufacturer.
  • Never push your child to play beyond her capabilities. Listen to them if they expresses concerns for her health or safety and never expect or allow her to play with an injury.

Selecting a Program

  • Choose a program that groups children according to size, weight, and skill level rather than merely by age. Children of the same chronological age can vary immensely in size and stature; smaller children are at heightened risk for injury when paired against a larger, stronger child.
  • Ask to talk to the coaches before enrolling your child. Select a program that employs coaches who emphasize fun and good sportsmanship rather than displaying a "win at all costs" attitude.
  • Be sure that the playing field as well as all equipment is in good condition. Equipment failure can be harmful to your child, so don't be shy about insisting that the program's coordinators properly maintain athletic equipment.
  • Make sure that your child's program allows sufficient time and guidance for proper warm ups before every game and practice.

Types of Injuries

When we think of sports related injuries, we often think of acute injuries caused by sudden trauma such as sprains, strains, bruises, cuts, or broken bones. These are common injuries, of course, but they are not the only types. Repetitive use of one, or one group, of muscles can cause overuse injuries. These injuries can be the cause of muscle tears, minor fractures, or progressive bone deformities in young athletes. Additionally, contact sports offer unique risks that put youngsters in increased danger for sustaining severe injuries. Even with proper training and safety equipment, children are at risk for serious injuries to the neck, spinal cord, and growth plates.

When to Seek Help

If you notice any of the following, take your child to the doctor for a consultation. Often, by taking care of an injury right away, you can stop a small problem from becoming a big one.
  • Your child experiences an injury and doesn't feel well enough to finish out the game.
  • Your child's ability to play seems to be diminishing after what seemed like a minor injury.
  • You notice any visible swelling or extreme bruising.
  • Your child complains of pain or tenderness, whether or not he was noticeably injured.
  • Any head injury may be cause for concern. Play it safe and see the doctor. Same goes for any sharp blow to the chest.

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