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From the Playing Field to the Emergency Room: Ways to Avoid Sports Injuries in Children

The terrorist events of September 11th left many people, including children, worried and scared. Here with some advice on easing your child's anxiety is CBS News health contributor Dr. Jordan Metzl.

Have the children in your practice been talking about the attacks?

There's been a lot of talk about it: Kids are just like adults. They can't believe a jet full of passengers could fly into a building filled with people. It upsets them greatly. Kids are also very worried about future attacks. But as New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said, it's important to get life back to some semblance of normalcy.

What is a good way to reduce a child’s anxiety?

Playing a sport is a great way to reduce stress. It forces you to focus all your energy on one thing and forget about the world around you for at least a little while. Sports are also a great way to create a sense of community, which is very important for children who are feeling uneasy right now.

Children need the proper equipment to stay safe on the playing ground. Let’s begin with a football helmet. You say when buying one, don’t go bargain hunting.

That's right. Head injuries are among the most common types of injuries, particularly in high-contact sports like football. Parents often ask me, "Is it safe for my kids to play football?" Although it's dangerous, it's still statistically much safer than driving in a car. But it's important to recognize injuries.

We worry most about concussions, which are head injuries that may or may not involve the loss of consciousness. The important thing here is, if a player has a headache, speak to the athletic trainer or his pediatrician. Concussions are potentially serious injuries, so it's important that the helmet is fitted properly--1 inch above the brow line and ears in the ear holes.

What about shoulder pads?

It's important that these are properly fitted. The shoulder pad should come over and protect the outside, just over the muscle. There needs to be enough room to move the neck and to fit a collar if the athlete wishes. Shoulder pads are sized for position (quarterback versus lineman), so you need to talk to your coach before getting these. It is important to not just use shoulder pads that have been handed down from an older brother or friend.

You say that a neck roll is very popular with certain players.

This piece of equipment obviously protects the neck and is very popular with lineman, but I encourage all players to use one. Neck rolls are very helpful in preventing injuries, but it's important a player also have strong neck muscles, which can go a long way in preventing injuries.

A rib pad?

A rib pad obviously protects the ribs and it is something I encourage all high school football players to wear. Some of this equipment may be cumbersome at times but there is nothing more important than your child's safety.

We’ve just been talking about football, which is almost exclusively a boy’s sport. Let’s go over gear that girls' soccer and field hockey players need. Let’s begin with a mouth guard.

There are record numbers of female athletes that have more than doubled in the past 15 years and they need protection too. People think about it just in football, but we see more dental injuries in soccer because the mouth isn't protected, so it's important to use a mouthguard in soccer and field hockey. Again, this is no time to go bargain shopping. It's very important to get the right size.

Shin guards?

This is mandatory equipment. You should get good ones to protect from getting kicked or hit with the ball. Many athletes only use shin guards during games, but they need to be worn in practice too.


Cleats prevent you from slipping on the playing field, and as you can imagine, children can get seriously injured when they fall. It is imporant that cleats are fitted properly. If your feet are slipping around inside they won't do you much good.

Water bottle?

Heat illness, which in its most serious form is called "heat stroke," can be fatal. In fact we've seen several deaths already this year. All athletes need to drink, and that starts with prehydrating 24 hours before a game. Then during the game, every 20 minutes, especially if the heat and humidity are high. We call this the heat index, and it's worst if the heat and humidity are both above 80. (The 80/80 rule)

How about an asthma inhaler?

Many people may not know about exercise-induced asthma, a common form that includes shortness of breath during exercise, with wheezing. It doesn't only occur in asthmatics, so people who have wheezing or shortness of breath with exercise need to talk with their doctor.
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