Children May be More Vulnerable to Athletic Injuries than Adults

June 14, 2016 in STSMPT

Two million, six hundred thousand youths age 5 to 24 visit the emergency department with sports injuries each year. An estimated 38% of all school-age athletes will sustain an athletic injury serious enough to warrant a healthcare visit. This is due in part to the increased participation in competitive organized sports. With half of all children age 5 to 18 thought to participate in organized sports programs currently, this represents a substantial increase over the last three decades. The high prevalence of sports injuries among people age 5 to 24 may also be due to the physiological ways in which young athletes are more vulnerable to sports injuries than adults.


It’s important for coaches and parents to keep in mind that physically, children are not just small adults. They have several differences that can contribute to the rate of sports injuries. Children may have larger heads relative to the rest of their bodies. Children have open growth plates with the potential for damage from heavy loads. This damage can lead to early closure. Children have softer and more porous bones matched to stronger tendons. This can increase the likelihood of fracture, especially at the growth plates. Most people do not reach their maximum bone size and strength until ages 25 to 30! Adolescents can experience sudden decreases of coordination during puberty, causing them to over-estimate their readiness for certain actions.


None of this is to say that organized, competitive sports are bad for children. It is more likely that the benefits outweigh the risk. However, recognizing the potential for injury helps us prioritize injury prevention measures. Here are some measures to keep in mind:


  • Even volunteer community-league coaches should seek to familiarize themselves with the safety protocols specific to their sports in particular, their athletes’ age groups, and with athletic activity in general. This should be considered part of regular preparation for coaching.


  • Parents and coaches should speak to young athletes about their attitudes toward pre-participation physicals. Student athletes may consider the physical a test to be passed, and this disposition can lead them to hide problems. Instead, we need to encourage student athletes to regard pre-participation physicals as an important health consult, where their greater good is the ultimate concern. We can also highlight for students the fact that problems discussed in the pre-participation physicals can lead to treatments and corrections that ultimately improve athletic performance.


  • Always warm up before strenuous activity. Keep in mind that time spent watching a game from the sidelines could be time spent cooling back down. Stay warmed up as needed.


  • Warm up before stretching. Stretching a warm muscle has greater benefit.


  • Train in balance. Flexor training should be balanced with extensor training. Not only does this prevent repetitive stress injuries; it adds control.


  • Stay hydrated. Keep in mind that prepubescent children have lower sweat thresholds and lower sweat production. The difference in sweating may suggest a more proactive hydration regimen than an adult would require.


  • Finally, seek a professional healthcare consultation for sprains, strains, snags, and nags. This can prevent further development of the problem as well as optimize athletic ability long-term.

Children Athletic Injuries

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