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Sports participation is wonderful for kids—it helps them learn about teamwork, perseverance, leadership, and good sportsmanship. Sports can help kids maintain a healthy weight and gain confidence. But what about injuries? Parents and young athletes can be unsure of what to do when they’re injured, especially if a big game is approaching.
In the spring, sports injuries are typically seen in athletes who participate in soccer, lacrosse, baseball, softball, and track. Injuries may include sprains and breaks in arms, legs, and joints; concussions; lower back injuries; stress fractures; and overuse injuries.
Christian Morkeberg, M.D., is a pediatrician at Southdale Pediatric Associates, Ltd., and has a wide range of experience in sports medicine. He says that when it comes to athletic injuries in kids, prevention is key and parents play a crucial role. “First of all, make sure that your child is in good condition before they start the season,” says Morkeberg. “That includes flexibility and strength training in the specific muscle groups relevant to their sport. Also make sure that protective gear is in tip-top shape, is the correct size, and that everyone is using it.” Another important safety area is the sport’s environment—making sure that fields are well groomed and that pieces of equipment, such as soccer goals, are secure.
Morkeberg also recommends that children get a sports physical before starting the season. That allows their physician to assess the child’s overall health, rule out heart conditions, and ensure that chronic conditions, such as asthma, are being well managed.
When injuries occur, it’s critical for the athlete to see a physician. With a doctor’s guidance, athletes will be able to get back to their sport successfully and more quickly. Playing with an injury can not only worsen it but also make the athlete more susceptible to a second injury. Physicians’ expertise in children’s skeletal systems and their knowledge of how muscles and bones work at varying ages help them to assess the injury and work with orthopedic specialists as necessary.
“I tell my patients that my goal is to get them back to their sport as soon as possible but safely, so they can keep playing for a long time,” says Morkeberg. After a diagnosis, he helps the athlete by assessing how the treatment is working, seeing how the athlete’s responding, and taking into consideration which sport and what position the athlete plays. “I try to emphasize that sometimes while healing on the sidelines, an athlete can learn a lot from the coach,” says Morkeberg. “This is an opportunity to look at the game from another angle and perspective and support teammates while treating the injury.”
After the injury, the athlete’s physician can guide the student on getting back into the sport safely and effectively. After a fracture has healed, for example, a physician may give advice on restoring flexibility to the limb, doing range-of-motion exercises, and beginning low-impact activity. The physician can further help by recommending exercises that will help prevent future injuries and help protect the athlete in the long run.
Finally, it’s important that parents encourage their kids to eat healthy, get adequate sleep, stay well hydrated, prepare for the season, and maintain a normal body mass index—being overweight can lead to more injuries, especially in ankles and knees. It’s also critical that parents don’t pressure their children but encourage them, stressing that what’s most important is having a fun, healthy sports experience.