Pediatric Sports Injuries: A Guide to Care

pediatric sports medicine

In 2020, 54% of children aged 6-17 participated in sports activities. With such high participation rates, perhaps it’s no surprise that each year over 3.5 million children under the age of 14 receive medical treatment for athletic injuries. Pediatric sports medicine addresses the unique medical and developmental issues that need to be considered when children sustain an orthopedic injury playing sports.

What is pediatric sports medicine? 

Pediatric sports medicine is the treatment of athletic injuries specifically in children and young adults. This treatment differs from regular sports medicine because young people’s bodies are still growing: the sorts of muscle, bone, ligament, tendon, and joint injuries that can commonly occur during youth athletics often differ from the ones sustained by adults, and they require specialized care and treatment.

Occasional injuries are an inevitable part of playing sports and growing up. Children are resilient and tend to recover quickly, but they’re also more prone to certain sorts of injuries because their bodies are still developing.

Here are some facts to consider:

  • 40% of all sports related injuries treated in hospitals happen to children between the age of 5 and 14.
  • 62% of organized sports related injuries take place during practice, rather than games.
  • Close to one third of all childhood injuries take place during athletic activities.

What are the most common sports injuries in children?

Some of the most common sports injuries for children include:

  • Ankle sprains
  • Shin splints
  • Knee injuries
  • Strained or pulled muscles
  • Tennis elbow

It’s important to make sure children receive treatment when they hurt themselves on the playing field so that their injuries have time to heal properly and aren’t compounded by returning to play too quickly.

Find out more about these injuries, how to identify them, and what treatment they require.

What are the long-term effects of sports injuries in children?

While children generally recover more quickly than adults, a study from the Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine at the London School of Medicine and Dentistry finds that there can be long term health risks later in life – such as spine pathologies and back pain – for children who suffer injuries during childhood athletics, particularly injuries involving bones, joints, or the spine. Significant childhood athletic injuries can also result in stunted growth or bone deformities if not treated properly.

A Guide to Pediatric Sports Medicine

Sports that involve jumping, contact, and collisions are the ones most likely to result in injuries. For boys, football accounts for the majority of pediatric injuries, followed by wrestling, basketball, soccer, and baseball. For girls, the highest injury rate comes from soccer, followed by basketball, field hockey, softball, and volleyball. 

Preventing injuries in child athletes

An important step in avoiding an injury is prevention. Here are a few basic steps you can take to help prevent injuries.

Best stretches for preventing sports injuries

Stretching before engaging in strenuous activity is a great way for adults and children alike to stay safe while playing. Establishing stretching as a necessary warm-up activity is a great way to instill protective habits. Here are some basic stretches that can help your child avoid an athletic injury:

  • Knee to chest stretches
  • Forward lunges
  • Side lunges
  • Seat stretches
  • Standing quad stretches
  • Standing hamstring stretches
  • Shoulder CARs
  • Seat straddle lotus stretches

Best exercises for building strength and endurance in children

Exercise doesn’t have to be limited to the playing field. Children are full of energy, Help steer them toward exercises that will help build their strength and endurance, such as:

  • Push-ups
  • Sit-ups
  • Swimming
  • Weightlifting
  • Playing on playground equipment
  • Yard work

Wear protective gear

The majority of sports injuries take place during practice rather than games, so always encourage your child to wear protective gear, even when they’re just practicing. 

Knowing when to see a doctor 

Here are some of the signs that you should take your child to a doctor:

  • They’re in severe pain
  • They have persistent pain that doesn’t go away for 2 to 3 days
  • They’re unable to move a limb fully
  • They have a limp
  • There’s significant swelling
  • They have headaches, confusion, or any sign of a concussion

Finding a pediatric sports medicine specialist

Since sports-related injuries usually involve damage to the musculo-skeletal system (i.e. the muscles, bones, tendons, joints, and ligaments), finding an orthopedist is the best place to start. At Alexander Orthopaedic Associates, we have a robust sports medicine team of physicians, physician’s assistants, and physical therapists who work with athletes both young and old. 

Understanding the role of physical therapy

For many injured athletes, physical therapists play a vital part in returning to health. Orthopedic injuries usually affect your ability to move your body in a healthy way. Physical therapists oversee the recovery process, guiding and suggesting movements that will help the patient heal and monitoring their progress over time to avoid complications. This is especially important for children whose bodies are still developing.

Home healthcare and after care

Whether you end up taking your child to the doctor or you’re managing a mild injury at home, here are a few pieces of advice:

Make sure your child gets rest

It might sound simple, but rest is a critical part of the recovery process, both after a significant injury, but also just after periods of regular exercise. Many of the injuries young athletes face are injuries of overuse and repetitive motion.

Encourage your child to rest when they feel strained, and make sure they take at least one day off from their sport per week and ideally at least one month per year.

Doctors also recommend children vary the sports they play so they aren’t always exercising the same muscle groups. Encouraging your child to try a different activity is a good way to let them stay active while allowing other parts of their body to heal.

Ice the area with a cold pack

This helps reduce swelling, as does elevating the injured part of the body. Reducing inflammation will relieve pain and help the body heal.

Follow your doctor’s advice

Make sure to follow any advice your doctor gives you about how to treat your child’s injury and monitor their progress accordingly. If the doctor recommends follow-up visits with a physical therapist, schedule them in advance and be sure to attend.

FAQs about Pediatric Sports Medicine

Here are answers to some common questions about pediatric sports injuries and recovery times.

How long will it take for my child to recover from a sports injury?

Kids are resilient and tend to heal more quickly than adults. That said, recovery times will vary greatly depending on the injury: for instance, there’s a big difference between a sprained ankle and a broken femur. Recovery time could take hours, days, or weeks depending on the injury.

Consult a doctor if you have any concerns or questions about how long it will take your child to recover.

What are the risks of playing sports for children with pre-existing medical conditions?

Many pre-existing conditions do not necessarily impact a child’s ability to play sports. However, if your child has any pre-existing medical conditions, you should always check with a pediatrician or your regular family doctor first before letting your child play sports. Your doctor’s recommendation will depend on the particulars of your child’s situation and the sport in question. There are often alternatives that can provide a safer and less risky athletic outlet for your child.

Connect with a Sports Medicine Specialist at Alexander Orthopaedic Associates

At Alexander Orthopaedics, our sports medicine team provides innovative, patient-focused care and customized treatment plans that ensure all athletes – from children to adults – can get back in the game. Schedule an appointment today to find out how we can help.