Preventing Kids' Sport Injuries

Team sports are a great way for kids to get fit and have fun at the same time. But with kids' sports and injuries on the rise, the question is: Are we pushing our kids too much?

Certified athletic trainers and orthopedic surgeons have observed an alarming increase in adult-type athletic injuries among children and adolescents. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 3.5 million sports-related injuries in children under age 15 were treated in the U.S. in 2003.

And the National Athletic Trainers' Association and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons are taking this topic pretty seriously. They've just launched an ad campaign. Their public service announcement says: "What will they have longer: their trophies or their injuries?"

Just how serious are sports injuries among kids? The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay tells co-anchor Hannah Storm it is fairly serious.

Senay adds what is really alarming is the possibility of chronic injuries, where we see the same problem over and over again - perhaps a shoulder or a knee injury that just keeps coming back. This is the kind of injury that used to be reserved for adults.

We have to realize that children are not just small adults, Senay says. They're still growing -- their bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This makes them more susceptible to injury. What is often a bruise or sprain in an adult can be a potentially serious injury in a young athlete.

What accounts for this rise in sports injuries?

More children are involved in organized sports activities, and more kids are specializing in a particular sport at a young age. Kids used to play whatever sport was in season. Now, more and more children are specializing at the age of 9 or 10 or even earlier, Senay explains. So instead of playing different sports and using different muscles as the seasons change, you have a child playing only baseball or only soccer, for example, 10 or 12 months out of the year.

The reason more children are specializing, Senay says, is that a child may have more success in one sport or another, so it may be that the child wants to specialize - or it might be the parent who wants the child to do so. The younger the child is, the more of a role the parent plays.

"I see the ambition in the parents' eyes. It's really everywhere," Senay says. Now, if your child is actually a prodigy and is fantastic at a specific sport, then he or she might actually benefit by spending more time on the sport and honing her skills for what could be a career in that sport. But child prodigies are few and far between.

Agreeing with Hannah's Storm's book, "Go Girl! Raising Healthy, Confident and Successful Girls Through Sports," Senay notes just because Susie likes to ice skate, that doesn't mean she'll be the next Michelle Kwan. A lot of parents believe their children are prodigies when, in fact, they're not. We all want our children to do well, but it's important to recognize when you're pushing them too much.

Here are some tips on how to prevent injury:

Get A Pre-Participation Exam

Adults shouldn't start any exercise program without consulting their physician, and neither should children. Make sure your child has a physical exam before joining a team. A pre-participation physical will tell you whether your child is physically able to meet the demands of the sport chosen.

The results of the exam should be shared with the school and the team coach so that everybody knows about specific health issues like asthma or diabetes. Then guidelines should be established to make sure everyone knows what to do if there's a problem.

Group According To Skill Level And Size

Kids of the same age don't all have the same skill level. Whenever possible, parents and athletic coaches should try to group them according to skill level and size, not chronological age, particularly during contact sports. A 10-year-old who's big for his age can do serious damage when he's matched up with a 10-year-old who's small for his age. If it's not practical and they have to go by age; they should modify the sport to accommodate the needs of children with varying skill levels.

Avoid Seasonal Overuse

This goes back to pushing the limits too much. If your child is good at baseball, that doesn't mean he should be on a few different teams. Stick to one team. Don't enroll your child in both a weekday team and a weekend team. What tends to happen is that the coaches don't realize how much the child is working. One coach thinks he or she is giving the child enough rest, the other coach thinks the same thing, but in reality the child is barely resting at all.

You also don't want your child to be playing in several different types of sports at once. Stick to one team at a time: Play basketball one season; move on to baseball the next season; and maybe a swim team the next season. Let your child do what he likes, but don't get caught up in activity and overdo it.

Have An Emergency Plan In Place

You want to follow all of these tips in an effort to prevent injuries. But in the event that something does happen, make sure everyone knows what to do. You need to have inhalers at hand for kids with asthma, epi-pens for allergic reactions. Coaches should be CPR certified and trained in first aid. They should have an up-to-date medical history for each player and a fully stocked first aid kit. They also should know when to seek a doctor's care, and have a plan to get a child to the emergency room.