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Children's Sports Injuries On the Rise

Sports are great for kids, but parents should know that more kids than ever are suffering sports-related injuries. How do you prevent them?

More than 30 million of children and teens participate in recreational and competitive sports in the US. More than three million of them suffer athletic-related injuries each year. Experts say half of those injuries could be prevented.

Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine specialist with New York's Hospital for Special Surgery who has conducted research on pediatric and adolescent sports injuries, spoke with the Saturday Early Show about the topic.

Part of the reason there are more injuries is that there are more young people playing sports. Once, girls were discouraged from playing sports because some thought it did damage to the reproductive system. Approximately one in 27 girls participated in sports in 1972; that number is now nearly one in three. So the more kids playing sports, the more sports-related injuries, Metzl says.

Another reason for the increase in injuries is because many children are playing sports with a high risk of injury. High contact sports include football, soccer, lacrosse, ice hockey and field hockey, Metzl says.

Some medium contact sports are baseball, cheerleading, fencing, figure skating and skiing. Dancing, running, strength training, tennis and swimming are some sports involving minor contact.

Sports injuries are different for children than for adults, Metzl says. Children may damage parts of their body that are still growing. What is often a bruise or sprain in an adult ankle, for instance, can be a potentially serious growth plate injury in a young athlete.

Injuries in young athletes fall into two categories, Metzl says. Macrotraumatic injuries result from one-time, large-force loads applied to bones, joints and soft-tissue structures such as ligaments. The more common injuries of this type include concussions in high-contact sports such as football and soccer and anterior cruciate ligament (or ACL) tears in field sports such as soccer and field hockey.

Microtraumatic injuries are potentially more serious and most often present in sports that encourage repetition such as running, figure skating and ballet. Types of injuries include "Little League elbow," shin splints in adolescent runners and low-back pain in young dancers. Chronic pain in repetitive-use sports might indicate bone or growth-plate inflammation.

Metzl suggests some tips for preventing sports injuries.

  • Pre-season conditioning, such as weight training, even for children as young as seven, can increase strength and get their fitness level up to make sure they're ready to play.

  • Proper stretchingand Warm ups can also both prevent sports injuries.

  • Proper equipment -- hand-me-downs may save money, but they're useless if they don't fit properly, Metzl says.

  • Listen to your child/STRONG>, since if he or she is complaining about pain, it could be serious enough for medical attention.

The risk of serious injury from high contact sports like football is at least 100 times less than riding to and from the game in a car, Metzl says, but that is not to say that there is no danger and real injury from sports, especially high contact sports.

However, the concerns for parents should focus on how these injuries can be avoided. Metzl says he would also not discourage children from participating in sports because of well-documented increases in childhood and adolescent obesity in the last 20 years.

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