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Sports Injuries in Children - Causes and Prevention

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Sports injuries are common among organized sports participants and contribute to more than 50% of ER visits. Read on to know more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Anuj Gupta

Published At October 21, 2022
Reviewed AtJanuary 12, 2024

Introduction:

Around 30 million children and teens participate in organized sports in the United States yearly. Every year, around 3.5 million injuries are reported to the emergency room due to a sports injury. This causes both loss of participation and reduced sports experience for the participants. A third of all childhood injuries occur while playing some form of sport.

The most typically reported injuries are sprains and strains, followed by fractures of the limbs and head injuries. Although any sport poses certain risks of injury, competitive and organized team sports such as football, basketball, soccer, ice hockey, baseball, and softball and activities that require repetitive movements are more prone to injuries. However, the action is not the problem; it depends on how the sport is performed.

How Frequently Do Sports Injuries Occur?

Some sports pose more significant danger than others. Contact sports, such as football and wrestling, result in more injuries than noncontact sports, such as swimming or tennis. However, all sports have a potential for injuries, whether from the trauma of contact with other players or overuse, misuse, or repetitive strain on a particular body part.

What Are the Rates of Sports Injuries Reported?

More children aged 14 years and less are injured annually while playing sports or participating in recreational activities. Although death is a rare occurrence, the main cause of death from a sports injury is a brain injury caused due to head trauma. Twenty-one percent of all reported traumatic brain injuries result from sports injuries. Activities such as bicycling, skateboarding, or skating incidents result in about 50 percent of head traumas.

Where and When Do Such Injuries Occur?

The common locations where such incidents are reported are the playground, sports fields, bicycle and skateboard parks, and other playing areas where children aged five to 14 commonly participate. Some statistics of these injuries are listed as follows;

  • More than 170,000 children aged between five and 14 years report to a hospital emergency room for injuries related to basketball.

  • Nearly 110,000 children aged between five and 14 years report to a hospital emergency room for injuries related to baseball and softball. Moreover, three to four children die from injuries while playing baseball each year.

  • Almost 215,000 children ages ranging from five to 14 are treated in emergency rooms for football-related sports injuries.

  • More than 25,000 children ages ranging from five to 14 were treated in emergency rooms for snow skiing and snowboarding-related injuries. In addition, about 88,000 children ages ranging from five to 14 were treated in emergency rooms for soccer-related sports injuries.

What Are the Types of Sports Injuries Seen In Children?

Some common sports-related injuries reported in kids and teens between the ages of five and 14 years are listed as follows;

  • Acute Injuries: These may range from minor injuries such as a scratch or bruise to more severe injuries such as an eye injury, head trauma, or fractures.

  • Overuse Injuries: These are also termed repetitive stress injuries. They occur by repeating the same action over and over-stressing a particular body part and can cause problems with bone growth. These injuries commonly affect the feet, knees, elbows, and shoulders and may range from bone dislocations to ligament or tendon injuries.

  • Reinjuries: Such injuries occur at sites of older injuries that are yet to heal completely.

What Are the Most Common Sports Injuries in Children?

The most common sports injuries seen in children are:

  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tear: The anterior cruciate ligament is the main ligament that helps stabilize knee joints. Tears in the anterior cruciate ligament can occur from a blow to the knee outside. Anterior cruciate ligament tears are common in volleyball, tennis, basketball, and soccer children. The symptom may be swelling, pain, and limitation in the movement of the knee.

  • A Sprain in the Ankle: An ankle sprain is children's most common sports injury. When the ligaments in the ankle stretch and tear, an ankle sprain usually occurs in children who play soccer, football, basketball, tennis, and other sports requiring twisting actions. The symptoms may be tenderness, pain, swelling, instability, and ankle bruising.

  • Little Leaguer’s Elbow: It is caused by the continuous stress inside the elbow of the children, particularly in the growth area. Little leaguers' elbows are common in children who play softball and baseball, especially for players who play as catcher, infielder, pitcher, and outfielder. This condition may also occur in other sports that require continuous throwing action.

  • Spondylolysis: It is a lumbar spine stress fracture. When a bone gets fractured after repeated stress due to compression or tension, it is considered a stress fracture. Spondylosis occurs in the lower back. This occurs in children who play sports like tennis, gymnastics, weightlifting, and rowing.

  • Concussion: It is an uncommon injury in children. It occurs due to a direct blow to the head. The parents should monitor symptoms like blurred vision, confusion, headaches, and dizziness.

How Can Sports Injuries Be Prevented?

Sports injuries may be prevented by the following precautionary steps enlisted as follows:

  • Using Proper Equipment: Using the right equipment, such as protective gear, ensures safer playing conditions. This also prevents injuries from faulty instruments.

  • Playing on Safe Surfaces: The playing area should be secure enough to prevent sports injuries or at least have a response team on hand to provide delay-free attention to the child in their time of need.

  • Choosing the Right Sport: To ensure playing a sport that fits the child well.

  • Obeying Doctor's Orders: The player must follow the doctor's instructions to resume playing after an injury.

  • Adult Supervision: The coach should supervise all practice and competitive sessions of play and be ready on call to attend to any mishap or injury.

  • Preparations: Preparation before starting a new sport.

  • Avoid Excessive Stress: Overdoing a training routine.

How Can Parents Help?

Parents should be more active in their children's sports activities, lowering the risks of sports-related injury.

Conclusion

Sports injuries are one of the most common causes of emergency room visits in the case of children and adolescents involved in school and college-level athletics and sports. According to US data, around 3.5 million such injuries are reported annually. The injuries may get affected as bruises and minor cuts to bone dislocations and fractures. Cases of repetitive strain are also not uncommon. The commonly affected group is children aged from five to 14 years. These injuries are not entirely preventable but can be significantly reduced in incidence and severity if certain precautions are taken, both by the school or college and the parents.

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Dr. Anuj Gupta
Dr. Anuj Gupta

Spine Surgery

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