Tips for Keeping Your Children Injury-Free During Fall Sports

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Many children return to sports such as soccer, football, cross-country and volleyball when they return to school.  Teri McCambridge, MD, clinical director of Sports Medicine at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, says preparation before the first day of practice is critical to help reduce the risk of injury.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, approximately three million children and adolescents 14 and under get hurt annually playing sports or participating in recreational activities. More than 775,000 children and adolescents 14 and under are treated in hospital emergency rooms for sports-related injuries each year. Most of these injuries are traumatic in nature and occur as a result of falls, being struck by an object, collisions, and overexertion during unorganized or informal sports activities.

More concerning, says Dr. McCambridge, is the exponential increase in the number of overuse injuries experienced by young children today.  These types of injuries are often the result of excessive training year-round or a rapid ramp up of activity after a period of inactivity.  This scenario is common at the onset of any sports season.

Dr. McCambridge suggests these tips to ensure children's safety when they return to school sports:

>>Four to six weeks prior to the onset of any sports season, children should start exercising regularly to get ready for their season.

>>Acclimate children to hot weather workouts by gradually increasing time outdoors in the heat and humidity. Acclimatization should occur for about the first 10 days to two weeks of practice to help prevent heat injuries.

>>Make sure children drink plenty of fluids and take frequent breaks: every 10-15 minutes while participating in sports or physical activity. Also make sure they wear light clothing and limit their exposure to the sun in the hottest part of the day. Applying towels soaked in ice cubes and water to the head and neck helps to stay cool.

>>When heat illness is suspected, move the athlete into the shade or coolest area nearby. Try to cool them as quickly as possible by exposing the skin to ice/cold water and cool circulating air.

>>Young athletes with asthma should use preventative inhalers 20-30 minutes before exercise, do a gradual warm-up and should have an inhaler available to them during practices and during competition.

>>Make sure children wear any recommended protective equipment and ensure it is well-fitted.  Protective equipment, such as helmets, can help prevent severe injuries such as skull fractures. Many head injuries result from helmets not being fitted or used correctly.

>>Remind children to immediately tell the coach or trainer if they feel dizzy, "foggy," have a lapse in memory, or have a headache after taking a blow to the head.

>>Parents need to be mindful that athletes who have symptoms affecting their thought process after taking a blow to the head should not return to the same practice, game or contest and should be evaluated by a physician prior to return to play.