Physical and sports activities should be an integral part of a child’s life. However, during these exercises, some children can get injured. Children are growing and expend a lot of energy, leading to fatigue and burnout. If you see that your child needs rest, take action. Let's look into the ways you can prevent your child from getting injured during physical activity.
60% of overall injuries for children happen in the lower extremities.
Low levels of activity, absence of strengthening exercises, overuse, or burnout during sports activities lead to injury.
Most of the injuries that children experience during physical activity require rest and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
A variety of sports activities, and strength and neuromuscular training must be combined with plenty of rest in children’s daily routines to avoid injuries.
Why do children get injured during physical activity?
According to the World Health Organization, children, and adolescents aged 5–17 years must be physically active daily. The physical activity intensity level must be moderate to vigorous and last for one hour each day. Strengthening exercises should be incorporated into daily activity 3 times a week. Most importantly, sedentary time must be kept to a minimum.
When these norms are not implemented, children are at a higher risk of getting injured during sports and regular physical activity. Even a low levels of physical activity can increase injury incidence if the child is not used to it. Interestingly, body weight has no impact on injury risk.
A review showed that children are more likely to get injured during unorganized leisure time physical activity. This kind of physical activity is not planned and is usually less supervised. Children may also sustain injuries during sports-related activities due to overuse and burnout.
It's best to ensure your child partakes in a wide variety of physical activity rather than focusing on one type. Scientists say that focusing on one sports activity until puberty is not safe and recommend having a diverse mix of physical activities.
Benefits of physical activity for children
Physical activity builds strength and flexibility for adult life. Children who lead sedentary lives are at greater risk of health issues later in life. Physical activity in children builds and strengthens the following areas:
- Cardiorespiratory and muscle system
- Regulates cardio-metabolic health
- Increases bone health
- Increases cognitive performance and mental health
- Reduces the risk of obesity
Most common injuries in children
The most common injuries children sustain while engaging in physical activity are growth plate fractures. These fractures occur in 20–30% of all fractures in children.
- “Little league shoulder” or proximal humeral epiphysiolysis. This occurs for those who participate in baseball, volleyball, and gymnastics where pitching creates a lot of stress and requires a high rotational moment of the muscles around the humeral bone. If the pain occurs during throwing, it is a sign to get some rest.
- “Little league elbow” or medial epicondylitis. This condition occurs also for pitchers, but now in the medial, lateral, and posterior elbow areas. It could be because of poor biomechanics. It can result in epicondylar fracture or ligament tears.
- Gymnast’s wrist. This condition mostly happens for gymnasts, because the arm is trained to be a weight-bearing limb. Repetitive overload leads to damage. With this condition, pain will be felt in the wrist. The healing process should start with a strict rest regime.
- Osgood-Schlatter. A pain syndrome is located in the knees, where the patellar tendon attaches to the tibia tubercle. This happens because bone grows faster than surrounding muscle and tendons. Squatting, jumping, running, climbing stairs, and kneeling are activities that can become very painful for children with this syndrome.
- Jumper’s knee. A painful knee condition located in the proximal area of the patella. It can be difficult for children with this issue to jump and run.
The healing protocols for these injuries involve plenty of rest, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and the application of ice and heat.
Injury prevention during sports
It is recommended that children take short, regular breaks from specific sports activities to avoid overusing certain muscle groups — and to reduce the risk of burnout. It has been noted that children return to their specific sport stronger, healthier, and faster when they are given the time to recover properly.
It's recommended not to train in a specific sport more than 5 days a week and to take breaks of between 2 and 4 months.
A variety of sports activities must be included in children’s daily routines because one sport activity is not recommended until puberty.
Types of beneficial training to prevent injury
- Strength training. Strength training can be beneficial for children if the program is well-designed and supervised. It has a good impact on flexibility, endurance, and risk of injury. Low muscle strength leads to fractures during aerobic physical activity.
- Neuromuscular training. This type of training is one of the ways to prevent injuries in team sports such as soccer, handball, football, basketball, and rugby. This training includes balance, strength, and agility exercises, and is incorporated into the warm-up. It is important to progressively adapt this training as an athlete gets stronger.
To avoid recurrent injury, science shows that braces on ankles, wrists, and knees can help to stabilize and support the joints. Furthermore, braces together with neuromuscular training can help reduce recurrent injury. However, braces should not be considered primary prevention.
Physical activity is essential for developing children in order to grow healthy and resilient bodies. However, if you notice your child becoming exhausted, or complaining of pain — you must allow them to rest and recover. Adequate recovery time will help them bounce back stronger and fitter than ever.
- Best Practice & Research Clinical Rheumatology. Current trends in sport injury prevention.
- Sports Medicine. Injury risk during different physical activity behaviours in children: a systematic review with bias assessment.
- Clinical Pediatrics. Pediatric sports-related injuries.