Sports Injuries

As summer comes to an end and fall approaches, the return of fall sports brings an increase in sports related injuries. Each year there are countless injuries affecting adults, as well as children impacting their ability to participate in competitive as well as recreational sports. When sports injuries occur, orthopaedic surgeons have the training and expertise to diagnose and treat injuries and get athletes back in the game. Orthopaedic surgeons are the sports medicine experts and as such serve as team doctors for every major professional sporting program.

Sports injuries can be grouped into two major categories, acute and overuse. Acute injuries are those that occur suddenly such as sprains, strains, bruises and fractures. In contrast, overuse injuries occur as a result of repetitive stress to the injured part or so called cumulative “micro trauma.” In this article, we’ll cover injury prevention, initial treatment and when to see a physician.

Each year nearly two million children under the age of 15 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for sports-related injuries. Football and basketball account for nearly half followed by baseball/softball and soccer. Most people readily acknowledge that participating in sports involves some risk of injury. When it comes to children and sports, the risks however can be minimized. It is important to remember that young athletes are not just small adults. Immature and growing bones, joints, ligaments and muscles are prone to some unique injuries not common to adults. For example, ligament injuries or sprains which are common in adults are less likely in children with growing bones. The growth plates at the end of the bones are weaker than the ligaments and therefore are more susceptible to injury. As a result, an injury which may produce a simple bruise or sprain for an adult could result in a much more serious injury in a growing child.

Young athletes are likely to encounter frequent bumps, bruises and scrapes along with other minor injuries. There are, however, some more significant signs of injury that will let you know when it’s time to have your child evaluated by an orthopaedic surgeon.

  • The athlete is unable to return to play after a sudden injury.
  • Inability to return to play because of lingering or long-term symptoms after an injury.
  • Significant swelling, less than normal joint motion or limping should be evaluated.
  • Severe pain or visible deformity that prevents the use of leg or arm.

Any of the above symptoms should lead you to seek medical evaluation. Seeking early treatment may prevent minor injuries from turning into something more significant.
When you visit your physician, be certain to have available the child’s complete medical history including medications and any allergies. Also bring a list of any questions you may have about your child’s condition.

Early treatment for many athletic injuries begins with four basic techniques frequently referred to as RICE, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. These things are used to help decrease swelling and pain and can be started as soon as an injury is detected. If a significant injury is present or suspected, imaging studies such as x-ray, MRI or CT scans may be needed.

Treatment may include RICE, observation, changes in sports participation, bracing, physical therapy, strengthening exercises, and, rarely, surgery. Treatment success requires cooperation and communication between the physician, parents, coaches and the young athlete.

In general, many sports related injuries are preventable. Adults charged with supervising child athletes are obligated to provide appropriate protective gear that is serviceable and fits well, as well as ensuring safe playing surfaces. While children are often considered to be healthy and fit, appropriate training for sports prior to starting the season is appropriate in lieu of relying on the sport to condition the athlete as the season goes.

Conditioning and physical training form much of the basis of injury prevention for adults and children in sports.  In addition to wearing appropriate protective gear, appropriate stretching and warm up prior to practice and games, particularly for strenuous sports, is another essential part of injury prevention. We also need to ensure that children are well rested and free of pain prior to athletic participation in order to help maximize your child’s performance as well as to reduce the risk of injury. A balanced approach to training should include flexibility or stretching, resistance or strength training and cardiovascular or aerobic conditioning. Appropriate rest and nutrition are also key components to maintaining athletic performance and preventing injuries.

-Much of the information in this article was provided courtesy of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.