DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a fourth-grader and a middle-schooler. Both enjoy playing sports. Is there anything I can do to reduce their risk of sports injuries?
DEAR READER: You ask an important question. Injuries that result from youth sports are becoming more common – and the injuries aren’t just the expected bumps and bruises that come with being active, either. Doctors are seeing more serious injuries, some of which can lead to lifelong disability.
At the same time, regular exercise is really important to a child’s health. It also sets patterns for exercise when kids become adults, and that’s important to their health later in life. Finally, playing sports teaches many lessons about friendship, teamwork and healthy competition.
So what can you do to keep your kids healthy and safe?
• Make sure they learn and use proper techniques for their sport. Many coaches are parents who are well-meaning, but have little or no coaching experience. They may not be aware of correct techniques to avoid injury.
• Don’t overdo practice. We all know that to excel at something takes practice. But the more hours young bodies spend in practice every week, the higher the risk of injury. For example, an hour of practice once or twice a week might be fine for a younger child. For a high school student, two hours every day after school might be appropriate.
• Think twice about contact sports. Over the past five years, there have been an increasing number of reports about permanent brain damage from repeated head injuries. Most of those reports have involved adult athletes involved in contact sports.
• Vary the sports and activities. Young children often end up playing just one or two sports all year round. This can lead to stress injuries.
Finally, don’t forget to keep things fun. Sometimes, sitting on the sidelines of a youth competition, you’d think that every child was headed for professional sports. That kind of pressure can take the fun out of playing. Encourage your child to work hard and do his or her best.