The number one cause of death in American kids is unintentional injuries. On average, more than 12,000 children ages 0 to 19 die every year in the U.S. from an unintentional injury. To make matters worse, another 9.2 million go to emergency rooms and centers for nonfatal injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
With COVID restrictions waning and kids getting back to being kids, we know that injuries are bound to happen. We also know that you probably can’t be with your child all day, every day, but there are some ways you can prepare your child to help prevent injuries from occurring.
Pediatric sports medicine specialist Brooke Pengel, MD, from Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children discusses some of the most common injuries among school-aged kids and teens, plus how you can protect your child.
Breaks, sprains and strains
Kids are adventurous – and it’s highly likely they’re going want to climb trees, run around the neighborhood, play sports and goof around. As parents, you want them to have fun and get some exercise.
High energy levels can often lead to breaks, sprains and strains, but the good news is, they are very treatable (and some are even preventable).
The most common sports injuries include muscle sprains and strains, tendon injuries, dislocations, fractures, broken bones, and spine injuries. Remember, even though your young athlete wasn’t whisked away by ambulance or you didn’t rush them to the ER with an immediately apparent injury, it can still take several hours for the bruising, swelling and pain of an orthopedic injury to develop. If the injury is minor, like a strain or sprain, typical treatment is RICE:
- Rest: Take it easy for 24 to 48 hours or more
- Ice: Apply an ice pack or cold compress for 10 to 15 minutes once every few hours for up to two days
- Compression: Wrap bandage around the area for at least 2 days
- Elevate: Try keeping the injured body part above the heart to prevent swelling
For pain relief, offer a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen or naproxen. Never give aspirin to anyone under age 20 due to the risk of Reye syndrome, a rare but serious disease that targets the brain and liver.
Don’t hesitate to head to the emergency room if the injury causes severe pain, swelling or numbness or the injured area feels unstable or your child cannot bear any weight or pressure.
Sports and safety
It’s important that your child learn the proper technique when playing sports. Preventing injuries in sports is no mystery. Always remember:
- Warm up and dynamically stretch your muscles before you begin.
- Cooling down and stretching AFTER playing is also essential.
- Stay hydrated whenever you exercise – 24 oz. of water before playing and at least 8 oz. for every 20 minutes during exercise is a good rule of thumb.
- Equipment plays a part in preventing injuries, as well: helmets, knee and elbow pads, shin guards in some sports, the right sneakers or cleats and other equipment.
If you suspect your child has a break, do not move them if the injury is related to the neck or back, and/or if the bone is protruding, call 911. For breaks to other areas of the body, keep the limb in whatever position you find it in and try to make a splint using anything that can extend around the joints and above the break until you can get to the doctor for an X-ray.
Every year, 1.1 to 1.9 million children in the U.S. ages 18 and under get sports or recreation-related concussions. Here are some ways Schultz recommends preventing these types of life-threatening injuries:
- Practice proper technique: If your child plays a sport, make sure they work with a trainer or coach to learn the proper form for things like tackling and heading. “Practicing proper heading technique in sports like soccer can lessen the risk of concussions,” says Dr. Pengel.
- Wear the right gear: Almost all sports require that kids wear some type of protection like shoulder pads or helmets, but it’s important that your child’s gear fits properly. If it doesn’t, it’s probably not going to protect them as well. You may have to replace certain types of gear each season, especially if your child has out-grown it or it’s worn out.
- Be aware of the signs: It’s not always easy to recognize the signs of a concussion, but it may help if you and your child are familiar with common signs. “If an athlete suspects he or she might have a concussion, they should be honest with parents, athletic trainers and coaches in order to prevent a prolonged recovery from a concussion,” says Pengel. Some symptoms may gradually worsen over time and may not show up until days later. Symptoms to watch out for include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Trouble with balance
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
If your child is showing signs, contact a qualified medical professional who can perform a physical exam and test nervous system functioning. You should also pull your child out of the activity or practice right away.
Always seek emergency care if you suspect a child or adult has a concussion.
Bike, scooter and skateboard safety
Wearing helmets, elbow pads, wrist guards and knee pads when your child is skateboarding, riding a bike or rollerblading can also help prevent serious injuries. More reminders:
- This is a great time to do regular maintenance on your kid’s bike! Whether you take it in or do it yourself, be sure to check for loose nuts & bolts, oil the chain, and ensure it is at the appropriate height.
- Bike helmets should be replaced after a single impact
- Ensure the bike helmet is fitted correctly. Look up – you should be able to see the rim (2 finger-widths above the eyebrows). Make sure the ear straps form a ‘V’ under your ears. The ear straps should be snug, but comfortable. Open your mouth as wide as you can – it should hug your head, but not hurt.
“Get out there and have fun,” says Dr. Pengel. “We want kids to be active and find joy in being outside and/or playing sport, but doing so safely can help avoid serious injury.”
We’re here for you
The Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children emergency department team is here for you 24/7 and provides infants, children and adolescents with exceptional emergency care when minutes matter most. Our dedicated children’s emergency room is staffed with board-certified pediatric specialists specially trained in emergency treatment. We provide full-service care when your child has a medical emergency, injury or ailment.
Visit RockyMountainHospitalforChildren.com for current ED wait times and to learn more.
If your child is experiencing a medical emergency, always call 911.