Sports bring so many benefits to kids and teens, but they also carry risk. One study published in 2013 found that sports-related injuries send kids to the emergency department for treatment 1.35 million times per year. That's why schools, parents, and coaches need to be alert to sports injury prevention.
In most cases, kids' injuries are minor (cuts, scrapes, and sprains), and even those ER patients can be treated and released. But sometimes, student athletes can sustain serious injuries or illnesses. The four most dangerous, according to the Youth Sports Safety Alliance, are:
- sudden cardiac arrest
- brain and cervical spine injuries
- environmental or exertional conditions, due to weather or chronic health issues
- dietary or substance-induced conditions
To promote sports injury prevention, the Youth Sports Safety Alliance created a National Action Plan for Sports Safety. It outlines specific guidelines for the four categories of serious injury listed above, as well as general recommendations for safer play. Those suggest that every school have:
- A "comprehensive athletic health care administrative program" and athletic health care team (including a physician, athletic trainer, school nurse or other health care professional, and the athletic director).
- Safe, clean play and practice facilities that are appropriate to each sport.
- A designated, "permanent, appropriately equipped area" to evaluate and treat injuries.
- A place to have confidential discussions with athletes and parents.
- A plan for selecting, fitting, and maintaining athletic equipment that includes staff training.
- Injury and illness prevention strategies, "including protocols for environmental conditions," in place.
- A way to inform parents and athletes about potential risks and how to avoid them.
- Parents who are educated about optional protective equipment.
The Action Plan also urges student athletes to have pre-season medical check-ups. These evaluations can sometimes detect heart conditions. They can help make sure players with asthma or other chronic conditions have a plan in place to manage their healthy during vigorous exercise. And they can provide a setting for baseline concussion testing.
Sports Injury Prevention Checklist
Elizabeth Quinn, About's Guide to Sports Medicine, has a useful safety checklist for sports parents. It applies to recreational and school programs, and covers simple yet crucial items like making sure coaches have first aid training and a first aid kit, and that they can contact you quickly in an emergency.
Common Sports Injuries
Learn more about the risks your child faces when playing sports. Find your child's sport on this list for more specific details about risks, safety equipment, and prevention. And read more about these injuries:
- Concussions and second impact syndrome
- Heat-related illnesses and dehydration
- Overuse injuries and tendonitis
- ACL (knee) injuries
- Dental and mouth injuries
- Eye injuries
- Stress fractures
- Sports hernias
Wier L, Miller A, and Steiner C: Sports Injuries in Children Requiring Hospital Emergency Care, 2006, HCUP Statistical Brief #75, June 2009.
National Athletic Trainers Association: Youth Sports Safety Alliance National Action Plan for Sports Safety, February 2013.