Sports Injuries

Recent research suggests that as many as four in ten emergency room visits for children between 5 and 14 years old are for sports-related injuries. In the U.S. , approximately 30 million children and teens participate in some form of organized sports, and about 3 million injuries occur each year. One in four injuries is considered serious.

  • The leading cause of death from a sports-related injury is a traumatic brain injury. A recent report found that boys aged 10 to 14 were most likely to end up in the nation's emergency departments with a traumatic brain injury. Activities such as bicycling, horseback riding, football, basketball and the use of all-terrain vehicles were most often to blame.
  • Researchers found that college football players get injured more often than their high school counterparts, but high school athletes are more likely to end up severely injured. There were 517,726 football-related injuries during the 2005-2006 season at the high school level.

Children, teens, middle-aged athletes, and women are at greatest risk for sport injuries. Accidents, poor training practices, improper gear, being out of shape, not warming up or stretching enough can cause injuries. Sports injuries can generally be classified in one of two ways: acute or chronic. Acute injuries occur suddenly during activity. A chronic injury usually results from overusing one area of the body while playing a sport or exercising.

  • The most common injuries are: sprains and strains, knee injuries, swollen muscles, Achilles tendon injuries, pain along the shin bone, fractures, and dislocations.
  • Growth plates are soft areas of developing tissue. They are found at the end of long bones. Because these areas are still growing, the bone isn't completely calcified. Growth-plate injuries are fractures, and they account for 15 percent of all childhood fractures. They occur twice as often in boys as in girls, with the greatest incidence among 14 to 16 year-old boys and 11 to 13 year-old girls.

Get a physical to make sure you are healthy before you start playing a sport. Wear the right shoes, gear and equipment. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of liquid before, during, and after practice or competition. Warm up, stretch, and cool down. Warm-up should consist of 15 minutes of sports-specific exercise. This increases the body's heart rate, temperature, and muscle elasticity. Stretching prepares the muscles for activity and prevents injuries from tight soft tissue structures such as muscles and tendons. Stretches should be slow and sustained. Stretch each body part two to three times for 20 to 30 seconds. Cool down exercises loosen the muscles that have tightened during exercise.

  • If you get hurt, stop playing; continuing can cause more harm. Treatment often begins with RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) to relieve pain, reduce swelling and speed healing. Rest to reduce the stress to the injured area. Apply ice to the injured area for 20 minutes at a time four times per day. Apply an elastic bandage to the injured area, but do not sleep with it on. Raise the injured body part above the level of the heart to decrease blood flow.
  • Only 42 percent of secondary schools have access to athletic trainers. They are often the first responders when an athlete goes down on the playing filed, and they help to prevent and rehabilitate injuries.

When to seek medical attention:

If the injury causes severe pain, swelling or numbness and you can't tolerate any weight on the area. Also, if there is pain or a dull ache of an old injury accompanied by increased swelling, joint abnormality or instability.


Harvard Medical School , National SAFE KIDS Campaign, Cleveland Clinic, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Athletic Trainers' Association, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, HealthDay , U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Arthritis & Musculoskeletal & Skin Diseases, and Washington and Shady Grove Adventist Hospitals . The Health Tip of the Week is for educational purposes only. For additional information, consult your physician. Please feel free to copy and distribute this health resource.

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