Back-to-school time means early mornings, new friends, homework, and — for many American students, at least — extracurricular activities. And while roughly 25,000 fewer high school kids played football in 2018 than they did the year prior, school sports are still going strong. In fact, the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine estimates that 30 million children and adolescents partake in youth sports all across the nation. Participation in school athletics can help to promote a healthy lifestyle, social skills, and even serve as a means for graduates to attend their college of choice.
But for all the benefits sports can provide, they can also come with certain dangers. Each year, approximately 31 million injuries require medical attention. But StopSportsInjuries.org reports that high school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits, and 30,000 hospitalizations on an annual basis. Sports injuries impact younger students, as well, with more than 3.5 million children under the age of 14 receiving medical treatment for sports injuries every year. Understandably, this can be scary news for the parents of young athletes. In some cases, parents might not even let their children play certain sports due to the risk of injury. One recent survey found that only 65% of Arizona parents would allow their children to play contact sports like football, soccer, and basketball. Just two years prior, approximately 82% of Arizona parents said they’d let their children participate in those types of sports. The main reason? Fear of concussions and other serious injuries.
Although it’s true that certain sports are often accompanied by higher injury risks, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to forbid your child from participating. Knowing how to reduce their risk of injury (and pursuing proper treatment in the event that they are injured) can make all the difference. Here are a few tips that may come in handy now that school is back in session.
Ditch Sports Specialization
In years past, students would often participate in a few different sports throughout the year. But now, it’s become more common for kids and teens to “specialize” in only one particular sporting event. Whether it’s in the interest of obtaining a college scholarship or due to passion for one single-minded activity, sports specialization isn’t actually the best idea for young athletes. A recent study found that young people who specialized in a sport were 81% more likely to experience an overuse injury than those athletes who played a wide variety of sports. Researchers theorize that the overtraining that comes with sports specialization can make athletes more susceptible to being injured. Variety and taking time off can reduce this risk. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least one day off from playing or practicing each week, while other experts say that the number of hours spent on a particular sport or athletic activity each week should not exceed the child’s age.
Buy High-Quality Equipment
For many parents, back-to-school shopping can represent a huge financial burden. But if your child participates in athletics, you might have to shop a bit smarter in order to make sure they’re safe on the court or in the field. Ill-fitting athletic shoes, for example, can lead to foot pain and subsequent injury. Wholly 19% of the U.S. population experiences 1.4 foot problems each year, but you might be able to prevent this scenario by buying your child a new pair of comfortable and supportive shoes that won’t increase their risk of injury. Make sure that any other equipment or safety gear fits properly and is in good condition at the start of each school year; if an item is worn out or no longer fits, bite the bullet and purchase a new version. In the end, doing so will be a lot more cost-effective than emergency treatment, surgery, or other medical expenses.
Teach Proper Preparation
Many injuries can be prevented if the athlete cares for their needs prior to practice or the big game. It might sound way too simple, but sleep, hydration, and nutrition can play a huge role in your child’s injury risk. All three can stave off fatigue and make it less likely for your child to make a painful mistake. Your child should also follow warm-up and cool-down procedures before and after gameplay to further reduce injury risk. Encourage your student to take breaks as needed and to listen to their body if they feel something doesn’t feel right. It’s much better to slow down or to sit something out than to push through and deal with the consequences later.
Treat Injuries Quickly
Despite everyone’s best efforts, injuries can and do happen. For minor injuries, the R.I.C.E. method (which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation) is often recommended. If your child has an open wound, you may be able to clean it at home — but you might need to head to an urgent care unit for stitches and to ensure it doesn’t become infected. And while the U.S. holds over 45% of the global pharmaceutical market, most minor injuries won’t require a prescription painkiller — ibuprofen will probably do just fine. For more severe injuries, you should head to urgent care or a sports medicine specialist. For true emergencies and major broken bones, the emergency room will likely be your best bet. Make sure your kids know that if they feel they’ve been injured, they need to stop and seek out help, rather than keep going. Although they might be afraid their coach and teammates will be disappointed, they’ll feel much worse if they have to sit out for the entire season or even risk not playing again due to extensive damage.
For the parents of athletes, sports injuries may seem inevitable. And while there’s always a nominal risk of getting hurt during practice or a game, there are ways to keep your child safe — without barring them from athletics entirely. With these tips in mind, you may be able to breathe a bit easier come game day.