PAMF Health Blog

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Sports Injuries in Kids: What Parents Need to Know

Posted on Apr 29, 2014


 sports injuries in kids

Most parents know that an active child is a healthy child – but what about the inevitable injuries if they play sports? Sally Harris, M.D., MPH, a specialist in pediatric and adolescent sports medicine at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, says the most common serious sports-related injury for young children (prior to puberty) is a broken bone, also called a fracture. Before reaching puberty, children’s flexible bones are their most vulnerable points as cartilage is still filling in and the ends of the bones are weaker and softer to allow for growth. See Dr. Harris’s answers to common questions from parents about fractures and other sports injuries in kids.

How do I know if my child has a fracture?

If your young child is hurt, whether it’s falling off the monkey bars or rolling an ankle on the soccer field, it’s most probably a fracture. It’s not always easy to tell if your child has a broken bone, there may not be any obvious outward signs such as swelling or bruising, and your child may still be able to move his or her affected hand, foot or leg. If your child is still in pain 30 minutes after the injury occurred, don’t delay, go to the doctor.

How is a fracture treated?

Once the X-ray has confirmed the diagnosis of a broken bone, a cast is the best treatment choice for young, active children, as it will allow healing and prevent the possibility of further injury. Typically a child will need to wear the cast for approximately four weeks. Once the cast is removed, your child may experience some stiffness around the affected area for about a day, but young children rarely need physical therapy after a common fracture.

Is there anything I can do to help my child avoid reinjuring himself?

A wrist or ankle brace can be effective at preventing another injury when your child goes back to her favorite sport after a fracture. Some ankle injuries leave the ankle weaker and ligaments looser for many months; a brace can provide support until that area has regained strength and stability. You may have heard the myth that wearing ankle braces long term weakens the ankle but that is not true. Tape is not as effective as a brace because it loosens up after 20 minutes of activity.

For sports such as skate- or snowboarding, ice skating or rollerblading, wrist braces are a must to prevent fractures from the most common injuries with those sports – a fall onto the palm of the hand. Wrist braces really work. For your young snow bunnies you can get mittens with integrated wrist braces, which can be easier for your child to pull on and take off.

Apart from fractures, are there any other types of sports injuries that might affect my child?

Other causes of pain your young child might experience can be growth related and, depending on your child’s age, may appear in certain areas of the body such as the back of the heel, knee cap or shin. This type of growth-related pain is caused by the stress of the sports activity on areas of active growth in your child’s body. It is different than what is often described as “growing pains” that occur during the evening or night time and move up and down both legs. If your child is experiencing pain in a specific area that consistently appears during or after playing a particular sport and lingers for two weeks or more, then you should check in with your child’s doctor for an evaluation.

My 8-year-old daughter is about to increase her gymnastics training schedule. I’ve heard of overuse injuries. Is this something I should be concerned about?

Young children, before puberty, are at low risk of overuse injuries as they don’t have the body weight or speed and are not usually engaging in the intensity of training to cause this type of injury. In fact, before puberty is often the best time physically for your child to maximize her participation in a sport she loves. This all changes at puberty. As your daughter enters her teen years, keep in mind that teenagers’ bodies are particularly vulnerable to overuse injuries as their bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints are going through their most rapid period of growth.

Sally Harris, M.D., MPH

Sally Harris, M.D., MPH

 Sally Harris, M.D., MPH, is board certified in sports medicine and pediatrics. She practices medicine at PAMF’s Palo Alto Center.