Seven tips to help prevent sports injuries in young athletes

BLOOMINGTON, Minn.—Millions of children, ages 5 to 15 years, participate in the fun and excitement of sports activities every day as their parents happily cheer them on in the stands. However, the fun can soon turn to fear and panic when a child is injured. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 3.5 million sports-related injuries in children younger than of 15 are treated in hospitals, clinics and emergency rooms each year. Long after the panic and immediate treatment, are there possible problems that could appear later, and what can parents and coaches do to protect their kids?

“Contact sports put young athletes at serious risks for severe injuries, and most parents don’t realize that the bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments in children are still growing, making them more susceptible to injury. Therefore, parents and coaches need to learn ways to decrease their child’s risk,” says Anne Packard-Spicer, DC, DACCP, an associate professor at Northwestern Health Sciences University, in Bloomington, Minn. “Parents also need to pay careful attention to their children’s complaints of sports-related aches and pains, because if left untreated, permanent joint damage can occur, hindering their physical growth.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 80 percent of sports-related injuries in children result from playing football, basketball, baseball or soccer. Two-thirds of these injuries are soft-tissue injuries, including sprains (tearing of a ligament) and strains (tearing of a muscle or tendon). Only 5 percent of children’s sports injuries involve broken bones.

Dr. Packard-Spicer offers the following suggestions to help guide young athletes to safety:

Wear protective gear and make sure it fits properly and is sport-appropriate. “Only use equipment specifically designed for the sport your child is playing. I’ve seen some kids wear football cleats for soccer, and due to the peg underneath the shoe, they end up tripping,” says Dr. Packard-Spicer.

Kids should play by the rules. Not playing by the rules results in fouls and penalties, which increases the likelihood of injury.

Parents and coaches should be aware of the appropriate body mechanics and physiology behind each sport. “It’s key for a coach and for parents to understand what body positions and stretching techniques best protect a player,” says Dr. Packard-Spicer. “A classic example of an incorrect technique that can possibly tear ligaments is a hurdle stretch that has kids stand on one leg and reach their other one off to the side. The correct method is to bend the elevated leg and hold it or tuck it close to the back side of the body.”

Don’t play through the pain or with an injury. “It’s important to respect the healing process and to avoid playing when one has an injury,” says Dr. Packard-Spicer. “Also, know your child and the signs that he or she shows when in pain, and instead of telling him to ‘tough it out,’ pull him out of the game to prevent an actual injury.”

Kids need chiropractic adjustments. “Kids as early as age 7 complain of transient back pain. Children, especially those that play sports, need chiropractic adjustments to ensure spinal stability, muscle balance, to improve biomechanics, and to have optimal nerve functioning,” says Dr. Packard-Spicer. “Chiropractic adjustments in childhood can help prevent chronic back pain and joint problems in the future. Most people think these types of adjustments are only for adults wanting to relieve back pain, but research shows that children and even infants have been safely adjusted for decades to relieve certain conditions including colics, asthma and reflexes.”

Good nutrition is important for bone building. “Especially for kids, it is important to eliminate the ‘junk’ food from their diets and to add the necessary fruits and vegetables, calcium, and protein that help build strong bones,” says Dr. Packard-Spicer.

Warm up, cool down, and be conscious of your movements. Warm-up and cool down stretches are necessary to prevent muscle spasms, and they help promote good body mechanics. “Make sure children don’t rush through stretches and are aware of their motions,” says Dr. Packard-Spicer.

For additional resources about preventing sports injuries in children, visit, a Web site focusing on natural approaches to health and wellness hosted by Northwestern Health Sciences University.

from the April 11-17, 2007, issue

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