Being active is an important part of growing up healthy. But active kids can get hurt, especially when they don't know some basics about safety. As a parent, you can't protect your child from every injury. But you can help your child keep safety in mind.
Getting a sports physical
A sports physical can tell you if your child has any health problems before he or she starts playing a sport. The doctor can check for illness or any problems with your child's lungs, heart, vision, hearing, strength, or movement. The doctor will tell you how your child can manage the problem and still be active.
If you think that your child needs strengthening or conditioning to avoid injury, talk to your doctor. Ask the doctor for exercises or to recommend a physical therapist.
Helping your child avoid sports injuries
Most sport-related injuries are from impact, overuse, or poor body mechanics. But there are things you can do to reduce your active child's risk of injury.
- Make sure that your child learns proper form and technique.
This can be from a class, a coach, or an athletic trainer. If you can, help your child build skill and strength before the sports season starts.
- Teach your child to take pain and tiredness seriously.
Don't let your child ignore or "play through" it.
- Avoid high-risk activities.
Some activities are so high-risk that child health experts warn strongly against them. These include boxing, jumping on a trampoline, and driving or riding on motorized bikes and vehicles.
- Give your child the proper safety gear.
Safety gear helps protect your child. Before your child starts a new activity, get the right safety gear. Teach your child how to use it. Replace it as your child grows. Set a good example for your child. Always use safety gear for your own activities, such as a helmet for bike riding. You don't have to buy all new gear. Check out low-cost or loaner sports gear options like secondhand sports stores, schools, or community centers. Depending on the sport or activity, your child may need some of these items:
- Helmets help protect against injury to the head, brain, and face. Use a helmet for any activity that can cause a fall or an impact to the neck or head. These include bike riding, football, baseball, ATV riding, skateboarding, skiing, inline skating, and horseback riding. Make sure the helmet fits and hasn't been damaged.
- Shoes help protect feet from injury. Sandals and flip-flops are not safe for bike riding. Some sports require special shoes for support and safety.
- Mouth guards help prevent mouth and dental injuries. Use a mouth guard for sports such as basketball, football, wrestling, ice hockey, field hockey, and soccer.
- Eye protection can be prescription or nonprescription. You can use polycarbonate lenses, or try goggles or a face shield.
- Padding includes football and hockey pads, shin guards for soccer, athletic cups, and sliding shorts for baseball and softball.
- Braces include wrist guards for snowboarding and inline skating, knee pads for volleyball, and knee-savers for baseball and softball catchers.
Preventing overuse injuries
Any repeated movement or impact can cause an overuse injury. These injuries can cause pain or soreness, inflammation, and even stress fracture of a bone. After an overuse injury has started, it can take weeks to heal. Children and teens are most at risk when their bones are still growing.
Common overuse injuries include carpal tunnel syndrome of the wrist, rotator cuff injury of the shoulder, tennis elbow, Osgood-Schlatter disease of the knee, and plantar fasciitis of the foot.
The following can help your child avoid these injuries.
- Encourage your child to do many different sports instead of focusing on one sport.
- Make sure that your child is using the right technique and equipment.
- Teach your child to pay attention to pain and fatigue.
Pain and tiredness are the body's way of saying "slow down, recover, and heal." Sore muscles are common after a new activity. But pain can be a sign of injury.
- Make sure that your child gets enough rest and nutrition.
- Place a limit on your child's participation in the sport.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting one sport to no more than 5 days a week with 1 to 2 days off each week from any organized physical activity. Also, the AAP suggests that athletes take off 3 months each year, at least 1 month at a time, from their sport.1
Avoiding dehydration and heat exhaustion
When your child is active and not drinking enough fluids, dehydration is a risk. The muscles get tired quickly. Your child may have leg cramps while walking or running. Playing hard and sweating without drinking fluids can cause dehydration and heat exhaustion.
To prevent this, teach your child these tips.
- Do activities during the coolest parts of the day.
- Drink water throughout the day, every day.
- Drink extra water before, during, and after exercise.
- Take breaks and drink at least every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise.
- Stop and rest if you get dizzy or lightheaded or feel very tired.
- Wear clothes that help cool the body.
- Brenner JS, AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (2016). Sports specialization and intensive training in young athletes. Pediatrics, 138(3): e20162148. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2016-2148. Accessed August 31, 2016.
Current as of: June 6, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.