Do you have active kids? Teach your young athlete how to avoid injury with these habits used by professionals.
Organized sports are valuable opportunities for young people — they can teach teamwork, strategy and how good it feels to stay fit, while giving them an extra opportunity to play and make friends.
Some sports can carry a risk of injury, and children and teens are especially vulnerable because their bodies are still growing.
“Among young athletes, we see every type of sports injury, from ankle sprains to shoulder dislocations to concussions,” says Alexander Weber, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with USC Orthopaedic Surgery who sees patients at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital.
To help keep your kid safe and ready to play, encourage them to build these habits:
1. Warm it up
Light cardio, calisthenics and stretching all help the body prepare for intense movement. Warming up also tells athletes where their bodies are at — where they’re flexible, where they feel strong and where they need to go easy.
2. Learn proper form and technique
Many injuries come from performing a move incorrectly. Learning good form and building technique not only keeps them safe, but also teaches self-discipline and the artfulness of athletics. Encourage your child or teen to ask their coach for guidance.
3. Embrace strength training
Athletes need strong muscles for sports like gymnastics, wrestling or even running. Strength is also the best way to support bones and joints. Getting stronger also makes stiff joints more flexible, and it prevents strains and tears in joints that are overly flexible (hypermobile).
4. Learn when to back off
Overuse injuries — like swimmer’s shoulder, runner’s knee and tennis elbow — tend to come on gradually but can cause just as much damage, so teach your young athlete how to listen to their body.
“Signs of soreness or fatigue are common with overuse, and they signal that it’s time to stop and rest instead of pushing through,” says Dr. Weber, who is also an assistant professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
5. Cool it down
After exercise, the body needs time to wind down. Encourage your child to stop exercising gradually, then to stretch. Hydrating with water is important, but if your kid has played hard in the heat or for more than an hour, they’ll need electrolytes. Try a low-sugar sports drink.
6. When they need to heal
If an injury does happen, start treatment with the RICE method:
- Rest to give the injured area time to heal.
- Ice for 20 minutes every two hours to reduce pain and swelling.
- Compression keeps fluid from collecting at the injury, which would complicate healing.
- Elevation reduces inflammation by draining excess blood and other fluids.
If this doesn’t help after an hour or so, or if the pain and swelling are intense, take your child to a doctor to rule out a serious injury and to get a personalized treatment plan.
— Kate Faye