Children who participate in sports reap many benefits, from a healthy weight to good physical fitness—and have a lot of fun, as well.
The risk for sports-related injuries is a concern, though: More than 3.5 million children ages 14 and under are injured annually playing sports and recreational activities, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Although not all these injuries can be prevented, these tips from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases can reduce your child's risk for harm:
Make sure your child has a physical exam before joining a sports team. A physical can determine if your child is able to safely meet the sport's demands.
Enroll your child in organized sports groups or clubs that demonstrate a commitment to injury prevention. Coaches should be trained in first aid and insist on proper use of safety equipment.
Ensure that your child uses the appropriate safety gear—for example, helmets for football and biking, shin guards for soccer, mouth guards for hockey, and good-fitting athletic shoes for every sport.
Make sure your child warms up and cools down before and after practices and games. Doing so can reduce the risk for muscle strains and pulls.
Match your child to the appropriate level of play. Children should be matched for sports according to their skill level, size, and physical and emotional maturity. Resist the temptation to place your child on advanced teams if he or she can't safely compete at that level.
Encourage water breaks every 20 minutes.
Watch for overuse injuries. Kids who do too much too soon or for too many hours a day have an increased risk for overuse injuries, which can be difficult to treat and have lasting effects.
Despite your best efforts, your child may get hurt while playing sports. Never let a child play through pain. Always stop the activity. Take the child to a doctor for an obvious fracture or joint dislocation, prolonged swelling, or chronic or severe pain.
If your child suffers a sprain or strain, try RICE:
Rest. Reduce or stop using the injured area for at least 48 hours.
Ice. Put a cold pack, ice bag, or plastic bag filled with crushed ice on the injured area for 20 minutes at a time, four to eight times a day.
Compression. Elastic wraps, air casts, or splints can be used to compress an injured ankle, knee, or wrist and reduce swelling.
Elevation. Keep the injured area elevated above heart level to help decrease swelling.
If pain continues or the condition doesn't improve, seek medical attention.