Playing youth sports is a great way for children and teens to get exercise, to learn team dynamics, to develop skills and set goals for achievement. For many children, playing sports can help them find activities where they excel, make friends, and gain self-confidence. But according to a 2013 study conducted by Safe Kids Worldwide, an international injury awareness organization, an alarming number of children and teens are injured playing sports each year, and the numbers seem to be growing.
Well-Being reached out to Mike Wilkinson, Director of Athletic Training Outreach Services, and Jason Craft, M.D., Orthopedic Surgeon, both with Mississippi Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Jackson, MS, about changes they are seeing in terms of sports injuries in children and teens, on the field and in the clinical practice.
According to Wilkinson, the most common injuries that occur are strains and sprains, followed by fractures, contusions, and concussions.
“Most of the injuries we see are in kids between the ages of 12 and 19 and these are occurring during a wide range of sports – including football, basketball, soccer, baseball, softball, volleyball and cheerleading,” Wilkinson notes. “Injuries to knees are the most common at about 15%, second are injuries to the head at 14%, then the fingers, knees, and face.”
When asked about the kinds of injuries that seem to be increasing in younger kids, Wilkinson explains, “The most prevalent cause of increased injuries is overuse. Overuse injuries often come from specializing in one sport, such as baseball or soccer and playing that sport at an intense level practically all year. Kids and teenagers are even more prone to overuse injuries than professional athletes because they are still growing.”
Dr. Craft agrees, “Kids are playing sports at a higher intensity and at a younger age,” he notes. “The result is that we are seeing more traditionally adult-type injuries such as torn ligaments and tendons. Part of this, as Mike mentioned, has to do with overuse. Also, the small growth plates around the knee or other areas of the body are more susceptible to injury in children and young teens because they are still open, and thus weaker.”
To help prevent injuries, Wilkinson says it is extremely important for coaches to have a good warm-up program before every game or practice. “You don’t throw to warm up, you warm up, to throw,” he explains. “Light jogging or brisk walking, and stretching, including “dynamic stretching,” like walking toe touches or walking lunges, done slowly to get the body active, are some examples of warm-up activities.”
“Another way to help prevent some of these injuries is with a good strengthening program, as well as balance and agility training,” Craft adds. “And, parents should realize young athletes need a break from one sport. Some young kids are playing a specific sport almost year round. That kind of repetitive motion can be very damaging to the elbows, shoulders, and knees, and can result in serious injuries.”
“Playing multiple sports instead of specializing is actually beneficial in more ways than one,” Craft continues. “Each sport requires different skills…whether it be agility, hand-eye coordination, speed, concentration, etc. Mixing it up can help a child develop better overall fitness levels that can help improve performance in whatever sports he plays. It’s important for kids, parents and coaches to remember that the purpose of youth sports is for kids to have fun, learn teamwork, develop skills and be active, not to be ready for the NFL draft or major league baseball.”
“Know your child,” Wilkinson adds. “Listen to them and be alert to any changes in behavior. They may not tell you when they are hurt.”
Safe Kids urges coaches, parents and young athletes to get more educated about sports injuries and how to stay safe. Athletes should be taught injury prevention skills including smart hydration habits, warm-ups and stretches. They should also get plenty of rest, and in the event they do get hurt – to speak up.
Jason Craft, M.D., Orthopedic Surgeon with Mississippi Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Clinic, was valedictorian of his medical school class at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC). He served his residency in orthopedic surgery at UMMC and completed a two-month AO International Orthopedic Fellowship in Freiberg, Germany, followed by a year of fellowship training in sports medicine and arthroscopic surgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Dr. Craft is Board Certified in Orthopedic Surgery.
Michael Wilkinson, MS, ATC, LAT, Director of Athletic Training Outreach Services, for Mississippi Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Jackson, received his B.A. degree from Tulane University and his M.S. degree from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, Mike is a member of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and is licensed by the State of Mississippi Department of Health. He is a 2008 NATA Athletic Trainer Service Award honoree and also was inducted into the Mississippi Athletic Trainers Association (MATA) Hall of Fame in 2008.
July 1, 2014, legislation passed by the Mississippi Legislature and known as the “Mississippi Youth Concussion Law,” went into effect. The purpose of the law is to require public, private and charter schools in Mississippi, which offer youth sports activities for students in grades 7 through 12, to adopt and implement a concussion management and return to play policy to help ensure that proper protocols are followed in the event a player receives an injury perceived to be a concussion.
Each local board of education, administration of a nonpublic school, and governing body of a charter school shall adopt and implement a concussion management and return to play policy that includes the following components:
(a) Parents or guardians shall receive and sign a copy of the concussion policy before the start of the regular school athletic event season.
(b) An athlete who reports or displays any symptoms or signs of a concussion in a practice or game setting shall be removed immediately from the practice or game. The athlete shall not be allowed to return to the practice or game for the remainder of the day regardless of whether the athlete appears or states that he or she is normal.
(c) The athlete shall be evaluated by a health care provider working within the provider’s scope of practice.
(d) If an athlete has sustained a concussion, the athlete shall be referred to a licensed physician, preferably one with experience in managing sports concussion injuries.
(e) The athlete who has been diagnosed with a concussion shall be returned to play only after full recovery and clearance by a health care provider.
(f) An athlete shall not return to a competitive game before demonstrating that he or she has no symptoms in a full supervised practice.
(g) Athletes shall not continue to practice or return to play while still having symptoms of a concussion.
It is important to note that community and youth league sports and school-sponsored activities for children under grade 7 are not required to comply with this law. However, it is recommended that parents and coaches familiarize themselves with and follow the law’s principles for the safety of Mississippi’s young athletes. A copy of the law is available in its entirety at http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2014/pdf/HB/0001-0099/HB0048SG.pdf