Want to keep your little sluggers on the playing field and out of the doctor's office? Then take the advice of Matthew Matava, M.D., sports medicine orthopaedic surgeon for St. Louis Children's Hospital, and protect their bones from overuse injuries.
"That doesn't mean keeping them away from sports," Dr. Matava says. "It does mean remembering that a child's growing cartilage tissue is relatively softer than the adult cartilage, making it a greater risk for injury."
In addition to sprains, strains and many other injuries that adults are susceptible to, children are vulnerable to four other types of injuries. "In contact sports, of particular concern are injuries to the growth plate and the ends of bones," Dr. Matava says. "In sports where repetitive training is required, children are most vulnerable to stress fractures and injuries caused when the major tendon and ligament insertions pull away from the bone."
Dr. Matava's prescription for keeping any of these injuries from becoming serious is simple. Pay attention to complaints of pain, and rest the part of the body causing that pain. It is time to see the doctor when that pain doesn't go away after seven to ten days of reduced activity or if the child is experiencing locking, catching, swelling or giving way of the joint.
Major league injuries also can be prevented by remembering that children's sports are child's play. Their playing field is no place to impose adult rules. Little League teams that limit their pitchers to six innings per week and keep their little linebackers from cross-body blocking go a long way toward keeping young athletes healthy. In addition, Dr. Matava recommends paying attention to proper equipment and suggests using such devices as break-away bases and padded goal posts. Leather soccer balls are not recommended. "They grow heavy when wet and become a hazard for neck injury when children hit them with their heads."
The most effective technique for injury prevention in young athletes is for parents to keep a cool head, Dr. Matava says. "Winning at all costs should not be part of the equation in children's sports. They should be out there to have fun and to exercise those growing bones, joints and emotions."