Taking Sports Safety Precautions

The biggest challenge for many adults is to get children to walk away from the computer or video games and exercise. Get some fresh air! Run around!

But, much as we like to see kids playing sports and learning new skills, the other challenge is to make sure it’s done safely. While much is heard about the dangers of playing football or soccer, it’s not just in those rougher sports that children face safety issues.

On the playground, for example, it is important for school officials to take some precautions. Most children hurt on playgrounds are aged two to nine, and the most common injury is falling from equipment, according to the Center for Injury Research and Policy of Nationwide Children’s, a pediatric care facility.

Children younger than six shouldn’t play on seesaws, parallel bars, spiral slides and overhead rings because they lack upper arm strength, hand grip, size and coordination. And make sure the equipment is in good shape and installed over the correct kind of surface, such as rubber, sand or mulch – not blacktop, concrete, dirt or grass.

Once children are older, it’s gym classes that pose the risks. Between 1997 and 2007, gym class accidents have increased by 150 percent, Thousands of children and teens are treated in emergency rooms every year, according to a study published in Pediatrics. Middle-schoolers accounted for half the injuries. The authors of the study don’t know why the increase occurred, but theorize it may have to do with fewer school nurses, larger class sizes and/or more strenuous activities such as rock climbing.

So what to do? Make sure everyone is wearing appropriate clothing – especially shoes. Worn-out soles can slip on gym floors, and those with no cushioning or arch support can cause harder landings. Also, since most injuries with boys involve contact with other kids, it’s especially important to talk about the dangers of roughhousing during gym class.

At one point or another, most children will participate in some sort of organized team sports, whether it’s Little League baseball or high school football. While such team involvement can create lifelong memories, it can also create bruises and broken bones.

While much is heard about head injuries, the most common athletic injury overall is an ankle sprain, reports the National Institutes of Health. Other typical injuries include stress fractures, dehydration and heat exhaustion.

Sports accidents will happen, but the best way to protect players is to make sure they have proper gear and coaching. And if they do get hurt, remember the acronym RICE: rest and reduce or stop using the injured area for at least 48 hours; ice the area for 20 minutes four to eight times per day; Compress the injury – with a doctor’s ok – using splints, elastic wraps or special boots; and elevate the injured limb above the heart.

Finally, while getting kids to exercise is one problem, the flip-side is those who play sports too much, resulting in overuse injuries and burnout.

"The growing emphasis on competitive success has led to increased pressure to begin high-intensity training at young ages, and this may be a significant contributing factor to these issues,” said Dr. John P. DiFiori, president of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine.

In an interview with the web site SafeKids.org, DiFiori said his organization actually recommends that rather than specializing in one sport at an early age, children should diversify – find out what they like doing by trying a lot of different sports – and when older, concentrate on the one they enjoy the most.

While school administrators can’t tell every student which sport is right for them, they can do their part to keep them safe while they’re honing their interests. Taking the right precautions in physical activity is a lesson learned for life.