Preventing Sports Injuries

For some children, playing sports is a year-round activity whether they are inside or outside. For others as the weather begins to warm and children spend more time outside, they increase the amount of time they are playing in their favorite sport or sports.

Inside or outside, any child who plays a sport should be receiving annual physicals so their pediatrician can monitor their health and fitness levels. Unfortunately, even the child who is in the best of health and fitness can experience an injury.

Lowcountry Parent wanted to learn if there are things a child can do in advance to prevent sports-related injuries, so we turned to the experts at MUSC Children’s Health. We interviewed Robert F. Murphy, M.D., board-certified pediatric orthopaedic surgeon, and Sara Van Nortwick, M.D., board-eligible pediatric orthopaedic surgeon, who both treat children and adolescents involved in sports around the region.

Here are some of their recommendations:

  • Warm up in advance. It seems like common sense, but every child should take the time to warm up with the appropriate amount of stretching that comes with the warm-up before beginning the activity. Warming up should become automatic before beginning any sporting activity.

  • Stay hydrated. With the hot and humid temperatures in the Lowcountry, this is especially important before, during and after playing. Children should have plenty of water, and parents should watch for heat-related warning signs like fatigue, nausea, dizziness and fainting.

  • Wear appropriate equipment. Make sure your child has the appropriate shoes, pads, helmets, face masks or whatever other protective gear may be required.

  • Follow a well-balanced diet. All children should follow a diet that includes a mix of fruits, vegetables and proteins. Try to avoid those sugar snacks and sugary sports drinks.

  • Get plenty of sleep and rest. Every athlete knows the importance of sleep and rest to help restore muscle strength. Injuries occur more often when a child is not rested.

  • Seek diversity in playing sports. Most professional athletes have played more than one sport. Choosing a mix of sports helps to cross-train young athletes and helps to prevent overuse injuries where the same muscles and joints are being used over and over again.

  • Stop play when injured. If your child suffers an injury, get help. Injuries do not heal themselves and playing through an injury does not cure it. Recognize the injury and seek help early before it accelerates. Watch for signs of limping, rubbing a leg or arm or some other change while the child is playing. Pain indicates something is wrong.

Drs. Murphy and Van Nortwick agreed that they see a lot of overuse injuries.

We see a lot of athletes who are over participating, such as gymnasts spending too much time at practice, kids who are throwing too many baseballs or adolescents who are over training with weights and cardio equipment,” said Dr. Murphy.

He understands that there is also a social element to sports participation and that the athlete is participating with his/her friends. Dr. Murphy seeks a remedy that works for parent and child.

For example, I may see a gymnast who has a lot of low back pain that’s associated with extension-based activities,” he said. “Rather than telling the family that the child needs to quit gymnastics, we plan for them to step back and focus on other things that don’t involve that aggravating activity. This may be stretching, strengthening, or participating in something else that allows them to be a part of the gym yet still gives their injury time to heal.”

Some red flags Dr. Murphy recommended parents to watch out for include:

  • If a child is not able to participate at their usual level.
  • If the child has continued pain in a certain location for more than a day or two and is not able to participate.
  • If there are any concerns about growth or alignment.

He understands that parents can be worried about their children, and said that the MUSC pediatric orthopaedic physicians are always happy to see a child to double check for concerns.

MUSC Children’s Health offers pediatric orthopaedic care at four locations: downtown at the main campus, Mt. Pleasant, W. Ashley and North Charleston. In April, the team will see patients at the new MUSC Children’s Health R. Keith Summey Medical Pavilion opening in North Charleston. MUSC Children’s Health offers the only pediatric fellowship-trained orthopaedic surgeons, in the tri-county area. To schedule an appointment call (843) 876-0111 or visit