From the importance of sportsmanship, to the ups and downs of winning and losing, sports and recreational activities offer children opportunities to gain great life experience and build confidence. But as the number of children participating in sports increases, so does the prevalence of sports-related injuries. Knowing key injury prevention practices is the first step to encouraging your kids to develop good habits with a focus on injury prevention.
Why should you be concerned about sports injury?
People often think about the many benefits of enrolling their children in sports and recreational activities without thinking about the inherent risks and dangers. Here are just a few of the reasons why you should consider teaching your children good habits when it comes to injury prevention:
- More than 46.5 million children participate in sports and recreational activities each year in the United States.
- Approximately 20% of children participating in sports activities are injured each year, and one in four injuries is considered serious.
- More than 2.6 million children are treated in the emergency department each year for sports and recreation-related injuries.
- 62% of sports-related injuries occur during practice rather than in games, but 33% of parents don’t require their children to take the same safety precautions at practice that they would during a game.
- More than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable.
Here are helpful injury prevention tips to help your kids stay safe on and off the field.
1. Understand the importance of a proper warm-up.
Preparing the body for physical activity is an important first step for injury prevention. A proper warm-up gives the body time to prepare for increased activity and excursion. For children involved in sports and recreation activities, a progressive warm-up is key. Children should start with slower movements and gradually increase intensity until they reach game speed. This will ensure their bodies are ready for action and optimal performance.
Another key point: incorporate sport-specific movements into the warm-up regime. For example, a child who plays soccer should jump for headers and do side-to-side agility. Children who play tennis should do movements that mimic their actions on the court. Sport-specific movements during warm-up will help prepare the body for the exact types of actions necessary in the game environment.
2. Incorporate dynamic, sport-specific stretches.
The importance of stretching before activity cannot be overlooked. Stretching can help to loosen and prepare the muscles for activity. There are two main types of stretching: static and dynamic stretching.
- Static stretches are what you remember from high school gym class – holding a hamstring or quad stretch for 20 seconds, and then switching sides. If you research the topic, you’ll find many scholarly articles that debate the effectiveness of static stretching before activity and whether static stretches actually hinder performance. The consensus of many of the studies indicates that static stretches are best for use during cool down, to help improve range of motion and flexibility, and to help muscles relax.
- Dynamic stretches, on the other hand, involve constant movement. Dynamic stretching helps prepare the body for activity in a sport-specific manner. These stretches can help improve range of motion and are an active way to stretch the body, increase blood flow to muscles, and prepare for activity. An example of a dynamic stretch is a stationary leg swing. Using a partner for balance, swinging the leg straight forward and backward will not only warm up the leg muscles, it will also improve range of motion, flexibility, and prepare the legs for activity. Leg swings are a great dynamic stretch for any activities that involve running.
3. Include ACL prevention exercises.
You may be surprised to learn that females are eight times more likely to sustain an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury than their male counterparts. Whether it’s based on muscle strength, gait, or body alignment, the fact is, all children should consider incorporating ACL prevention exercises into their warm-ups or strengthening routines. Here are three great resources that demonstrate ACL prevention exercises:
- ACL Prevention Exercises with United States Women’s Soccer National Team
- National Athletic Training Association - Osteoarthritis Action Alliance
- ACL Prevention – Kaiser Permanente Medical Group
4. Take care after activity.
What they do after recreational activities is almost as important as their preparation. After any sport or recreational activity, be sure to encourage your kids to cool down, stretch out, and take care of any injuries, no matter how minor they may seem. Taking care after activity can help muscles recover faster and can help improve range of motion and flexibility. If your child has general muscle soreness or injury, consider the correct treatment after an injury – like the use of ice or heat.
5. Focus on strengthening exercises.
In the days between practices or in the off-season, consider getting your kids involved in strengthening programs. This doesn’t mean trying to turn them into body builders; instead, the focus is to build functional strength to enhance performance and prevent injury. Simple things like body-weight squats and lunges, push-ups, and sits ups can go a long way in building functional strength and preventing injury.
6. Get some rest and always have fun.
Getting involved in sports and recreational activities is a great idea for kids, but overdoing it can cause over-use injuries. Remember that activities should always be fun, and be sure that your kids get plenty of time to rest and rejuvenate!
Have you talked to your kids about the importance of injury prevention? Please share your tips and advice with us in the comments!
Sources:Centers For Disease Control And Prevention: Sports Injuries: The Reality
Children’s Hospital Of Wisconsin: Sports Injury Statistics
Safe Kids Worldwide: Preventing Sports Related Injuries