Staying active is an important part of staying healthy, and spring sports are a great way to keep your child on the move. However, there are risks involved.
We spoke with Matthew Jepson, a sports medicine physician at The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics, the second largest provider of orthopaedic care in the country, with offices in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC., and Bryan Pugh, executive director of the Baltimore-based Brain Injury Association of Maryland, on how to prevent some of the most common injuries from spring sports and keep your kid off the bench.
Jepson, who has been practicing sports medicine for almost five years, says that the most common injuries his centers treat are sprains, strains and overuse injuries. But he stresses that participating in spring sports doesn’t have to be risky, and is good for overall health.
“We strongly encourage everyone to participate in athletics. It’s a great way to stay active. Staying fit benefits physical health and mental health,” says Jepson, who works at locations in Frederick and Urbana.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. One of the most effective ways parents can help their children prepare for the athletic season is by encouraging something Jepson calls “dynamic stretching.”
Dynamic stretching differs from the typical stretches we’re used to in that it focuses on the movements associated directly with the activity. Working through the motions of what they’re going to do warms up the muscles and tissues in that area.
While stretching might save your child from strains and sprains, dedicated single-sport athletes have another woe to contend with—overuse injuries.
Overuse injuries are more likely to happen when starting a new activity or increasing time spent on an ongoing activity. Taking on too much physical activity too quickly can be dangerous, and might have occurred if your child’s sport restarted after a pandemic hiatus. The best thing you can do to help your child is teach them to pace themselves.
“Remember, these are kids,” Jepson says. “This is supposed to be fun.”
Jepson advises parents to equate hours of participation with their child’s age. (For example, a 4-year-old should have no more than 4 hours of that sport per week.) And, he encourages parents to let their child sample other sports.
“We know research here says that early sports specialization doesn’t really impact your ability to play until you’re at least 12 years old, with tennis and gymnastics being exceptions,” Jepson says.
Check Your Gear
“One of the things we always tell people is that if there is a helmet for your sport, wear it. You only get one brain,” Pugh says.
Parents should be sure to check that their child’s equipment still fits. Many sports activities were paused for an extended period during the pandemic, leaving kids time to grow out of old gear.
Know the Rules
The rules aren’t just for fun. Many rules exist to keep the players safe, and sometimes, rules are different as children get older and move into more advanced leagues of a sport, so it’s important to stay updated.
Take Care of Your Body
Adequate sleep, hydration and nutrition are all important parts of sports safety. According to Pugh, these guidelines will help your child avoid falls and impacts, which are the main causes of injury in sports.
“You want to keep your mind clear, vision clear, joints lubricated and be aware of your surroundings,” Pugh says.
Another important step players should take to prep for spring sports is getting a sports physical. Physicals are important because they can catch health issues that are prone to worsen with activity or make injury more likely.
Injuries can still occur even when your child follows all the rules, wears the right gear and takes proper preventative measures.
After an injury, it’s important to follow up with a physician to know when it might be safe to return to normal activity and what limitations your child may have during recovery. This is especially crucial when dealing with head injuries.
“A second impact event can be incredibly dangerous, up to and including death. The brain can become more susceptible to concussions, take longer to recover or not recover at all,” Pugh says.
Some signs of a more severe head injury include loss of consciousness, slurred or incoherent speech, nausea, sensitivity to light or sound and staggering.
Convincing your child to take the necessary time to heal can be a challenge. Children of all ages are often eager to get back in the game and may minimize or downplay their injuries to do so. Younger children or children with disabilities may lack the necessary awareness of their bodies to know when to take a break. For these children, parents should pay close attention to how they’re moving. They might be favoring their injured body part, avoiding certain movements or getting distracted. Older children and teens competing for scholarships may try to rejoin their sport before healing fully.
“The reality is, if they come back too soon and have a subsequent injury, it’s really going to incapacitate them from any scholarships,” Pugh says.