When Should You Worry About Youth Sports Injuries? An Expert Answers
Youth sports are a go in Connecticut this spring, which means kids across the state are oiling up their baseball mitts and dusting off their lacrosse cleats. But while parents are ready to snag their favorite spot on the bleachers, they also know that the return of sports means the return of—yes, you guessed it—sports-related injuries.
Bumps and bruises and aches and pains are certainly par for the course in youth athletics, but knowing when to worry—or when to call the pediatrician on speed dial—isn't always so clear. So, we connected with pediatric orthopedic and sports medicine specialist Mark A. Rieger, MD and the experts at Connecticut Children's to learn more about some of the most common youth sports injuries and what to look out for on and off the field.
What Are the Most Common Sports Injuries for Children?
As it turns out, overuse injuries, which are caused by repeated stress of a muscle group or joint as opposed to a one-time collision or fall, are some of the most common injuries among young athletes.
“Overuse injuries can occur in any sport,” says Dr. Rieger, “from ‘Little League Elbow’ to back issues to ACL tears and ankle sprains.” (You can take a look at all 10 of the most common injuries here.)
Why so common? Well, as Dr. Rieger explains, kids have growth plates at the ends of their bones, which remain "open" and flexible until around age 15 for girls and 17 for boys. Because these growth plates are made of cartilage, they're weaker and more susceptible to injury than mature bone.
The good news is that when overuse injuries are caught and treated early, they're generally not a big deal. However, if you've got a tough kid who's determined to play through the pain, these injuries can actually progress to long-term problems that potentially damage growth plates and impact potential bone growth. Yikes...
Alright, so what's a soccer mom or basketball dad to do? According to Dr. Rieger, make sure your athlete returns to activities gradually, has sufficient recovery time, and doesn’t specialize in just one sport year-round—plus take a look at these other rules of sports injury prevention.
And in addition to encouraging patience, rest, and a little variety with your outfielder or defender, learn to recognize the signs of injury early. In particular, listen out for complaints of pain, soreness, ache, tenderness, tightness or swelling, especially after playing sports, but also during day-to-day activities—like walking, sitting in school, taking the stairs, or carrying a backpack.
How Youth Sports Injuries Should Be Treated
If you do suspect an overuse injury, make sure your all-star stops any painful activities right away. “Pain is an athlete’s body telling them they shouldn’t be doing something,” says Dr. Rieger. “Don’t mask it with anti-inflammatories. Don’t ignore it. If your child is experiencing pain, back off from activities until they’re pain-free. Then slowly restart the process of increasing their activity.”
Have a talk with your child’s coach to make sure everyone's on the same page about appropriate restrictions and rest—and see if he or she might be able to offer up some guidance on technique, preventive stretching, and strengthening exercises that can help prevent future injuries.
“No matter the injury, your child’s symptoms should be completely resolved before they return to sports activities,” says Dr. Rieger.
If the complaints continue, it's definitely time for medical advice. Reach out to your child’s primary care pediatrician, or schedule an appointment with a specialist who can evaluate the injury and work with your young athlete on proper form and other injury prevention strategies.
For Fairfield County families, the pediatric orthopedics and sports medicine experts at Connecticut Children's are a great resource. Connecticut Children’s is the only health system in the state dedicated to kids—and ranked one of the best children’s hospitals in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and Women’s Choice—so you can trust you're in good hands. Schedule a walk-in or same-day appointment with one of their experienced sports medicine specialists in Danbury or—starting April 12—Shelton, or sign up for a Video Visit now.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.