Keep Your Child Athlete Off the Disabled List

Each summer, you dutifully take your young quarterback, gymnast, or outfielder for a sports physical. Once he or she gets the all-clear for the upcoming season, you hope not to see the doctor again until next year.

But some young athletes aren't so lucky. New estimates suggest one in 10 children receives medical treatment for a sports injury each year. Here's more about game-halting harms—and how to head them off at the pass.


Overview: Each year, about 500,000 kids sustain trauma brain injuries such as concussions—and about half of these concussions occur during sports. Concussions can cause long-term problems with learning and memory. Watch your child closely after a blow to the head. Red flags can appear minutes or days later. They include headache, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and noise, and mood changes.

Treatment: Treating head injuries promptly is the best way to reduce long-term effects. Recovery requires resting physically and mentally for at least a week, and often longer. Your child's doctor will use brain testing and other measures to help decide when it's safe to play again. A second strike before the brain has healed could be fatal.

Prevention: Helmets provide protection in sports like football and skiing. Choose a helmet that fits snugly but is still comfortable. It shouldn't move around while your child is wearing it.

Bone, tendon, and muscle injuries

Overview: Sprains, strains, fractures, and other injuries can strike suddenly or develop over time. Your child's risk may depend on his or her sport. For instance, basketball players are prone to knee ligament tears, while baseball and softball players may break bones sliding into bases.

Treatment: For muscles and tendons, the best immediate treatment is RICE. That's rest, ice, compression, and elevation. See your child's doctor or a pediatric sports medicine specialist for obvious broken bones, dislocated joints, or long-lasting, severe swelling or pain. Medications, casts and splints, and sometimes surgery may be needed.

Prevention: Make sure kids use the proper protective gear for their sport. And ask your school or league officials about changing rules to keep kids safer. For instance, one recent study suggested banning body-checking in youth hockey after these checks were found to cause a three-fold increase in injuries.

Heat illness

Overview: Physical activity in warm weather is more dangerous for children. Because they sweat less, their body temperature can rise quickly.

Treatment: Mild cases of dehydration and heat cramps can be treated with fluid and a few hours' rest. But watch for signs like nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or a change in mental status. These may mean heat exhaustion or heat stroke. This requires emergency medical help and a doctor's guidance on a safe return to the sport.

Prevention: During warm-weather workouts or games, make sure kids have unlimited access to fluids. Consider reducing or canceling workouts on hot, humid days.