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What’s Sending Millions of Young Athletes To The ER?

Youth sports in America are different than they used to be 15 years ago…or even just 5 years ago. There are more than 38 million youth playing organized sports each year, plus the number that participate in recreational games.

Children are starting younger, specializing sooner, and playing more competitively.

sports-injuryWith some young athletes now beginning their athletic careers as young as age four, the line between “athlete” and “youth athlete” becomes fuzzy.

As a nation, we often forget that although talented, young players have yet to develop fully. Children’s bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments are still growing – and that means they’re much more prone to injury.

Still experiencing bone growth, the areas at the end of long bones where cartilage is developing is still weak compared to other ligaments and tendons. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, a small injury (like a twisted ankle that might result in a sprain in an adult athlete) could potentially result in a much more serious bone injury in developing children.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital reported sports injuries as the second leading cause of emergency room visits for children and adolescents. Roughly three million children are sent to the ER for sports-related injuries, while another five million are treated by a primary care physician or a sports medicine clinic.

Common Youth Sports Injuries

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, some of the more common types of youth sports injuries include:

  • Sprains and Strains
  • Growth Plate Injuries
  • Repetitive Motion Injuries
  • Heat-Related Illnesses

In 2013, USA Today released statistics for the most common diagnoses seen in ERs for youth sports related injuries. Ranking first place for the most common injury was Strain/Sprain. Fractures, Contusions, and Concussions were all on the list.

As for where on the body they occur, Ankles were the most common location – followed closely by Head and Fingers.

PSafe Kids Worldwide, based on hospital ER reports, 2012
Janet Loehrke, USA TODAY

Depending on the sport, the type of injuries may also differ. For example, basketball’s most common injuries include sprains, strains, fractures, scrapes/cuts, and dislocations. Football’s most common injuries range from sprains, to strains, pulled muscles, soft tissue tears, broken bones, internal injuries, concussions, and back injuries.

Proper Treatment

The first, and most important factor in properly treating a youth sports injury is to have it evaluated by a medical professional. Any injury involving swelling and/or loss of movement or strength should be taken to a physician immediately.

If you believe an injury to be minor, evaluate the area after a few days. If it has not healed itself, it’s time to go to the doctor. Small injuries that fail to heal properly can result in a chronic issue.

The R.I.C.E. Strategy

Nationwide Children’s Hospital recommends using the R.I.C.E. treatment plan after an injury has occurred.

Rest – Avoid using the injured area until it can be properly evaluated by a medical professional.

Ice – Use ice to help minimize the pain and swelling to the area. Apply ice to the area in 15-20 minute increments. Icing should be performed during the first 48-72 hours after the injury has occurred.

Compression – Apply elastic wrap below the injured area, wrapping upward, to help reduce swelling. If using elastic wrap/compression socks, always leave toes/fingers exposed and keep an eye out for numbness or discoloration.

Elevation – Prop the injured area higher than the heart.


Injury Prevention

There are several strategies available to help prevent sports injuries in youth players before they happen.

  • Wear the appropriate protective gear and make sure all pieces fit the athlete properly.
  • Always warm-up before starting to play.
  • Keep hydrated especially in intense heat.
  • Do not put repetitive stress on immature muscle-bone areas as these may result in overuse injuries.
  • Participate in multiple sports, not just one sport, year-round.
  • Limit the number of teams a young athletes joins over one season.
  • Have a physician screen young athletes for a preseason physical examination.

Do you have a strategy that helps keep the young athletes in your life safe? Add it to the comments section below!

Kris Baker

Kris Baker is the President of Demosphere and has been serving the Youth Sports Community since 2006.