Young Children: Injuries in Contact Sports - Article by Margarita Gurevich published in the Great Health Guide


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Exercise and sport provide a vast amount of benefit to our physical and mental health. Naturally, there is the risk of injury when participating in sports. In this article, we will focus on several different types of injuries and illnesses which can be sustained during sport participation, with particular focus on how this may affect young children.

  • Sprains and strains:
  • Concussion:
  • Heat-related illness:
  • Repetitive strain injuries:
  • Growth plate injuries:

Sprains refer to an injury of one or more ligaments (the tough, flexible tissues which connect two bones). Strains refer to an injury of the muscle (the tissue which contracts, allowing for movement) or tendon (the strong tissue which connects muscle to bone).

As with adults, children can experience sprains and strains to varying degrees, resulting in slight to severe pain and ranging from several days to several months off sport.

For children, an appropriate first response is to utilize the RICER protocol:

  • Rest: cease exercise on the affected area.
  • Ice: apply ice (best to wrap in a towel) for up to 20 minutes at a time on the affected area.
  • Compress: some areas may not be appropriate for this, however, a typical ankle sprain for example can be firmly wrapped to reduce swelling around the joint.
  • Elevate: try to keep the affected area above the level of the heart – this means that if the knee has been injured, lay the child down and prop a pillow under the affected leg so that gravity can assist in draining blood away from the affected region.
  • Referral: if the injury appears immediately severe, or there is no improvement in several days, refer to a healthcare professional for evaluation.

Experiencing a concussion on more than one occasion can be even more dangerous.

Concussion refers to an injury of the brain and is typically sustained when there is a high impact to the head, either against an opposing player, an object or the ground. As we know, our brain is protected by the skull and since children have weaker bones then adults, they are at higher risk of concussion from a head collision. Experiencing a concussion on more than one occasion can be even more dangerous.

Typical signs of concussion include headache, loss of consciousness (prolonged or momentary), confusion, memory loss, dizziness, ringing in the ears, nausea or vomiting.

Anyone can experience heat-related illness, but young children and elderly are at higher risk due to their less efficient ability to regulate body temperature. Dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the three typical levels of heat-related illness, with the latter being the worst.

Signs of heat exhaustion include nausea, weakness, moist skin, heavy breathing and dilated pupils.

In order to reduce the risk of such illness occurring, it’s important that children are well hydrated, regular breaks are taken between bouts of exercise, exercise is undertaken in cool environments where possible and that sun-protective gear, such as sunscreen and a hat, is utilized.

Children may experience injuries if they are undertaking exercise which is highly repetitive in nature. Therefore, it is advised that children participate in a variety of exercises, which involve different movements and emphasise various body parts. A child who only participates in one sport and does so for a long duration with a high level of frequency, may be at higher risk of sustaining a repetitive injury.

Growing children and adolescents have bones which are not fully developed. In their long bones, such as those of the hands, arms, feet and legs, growth plates are present at either end of the bone. While fractures (breaks in the bone) are common in children and typically heal well, damage to the growth plates can result in altered growth of the bone and therefore functional limitations as they grow up.

Growing children and adolescents have bones which are not fully developed.

The good news is that a lot of these injuries can be prevented if necessary precautions are taken. If, however, if an injury is sustained, it’s important to see a trained healthcare professional. Physiotherapists who specialise in sports injuries can help with accelerating the recovery process and getting the child back to sport quicker. Physiotherapy can also help with injury prevention by building up the strength of the relevant muscles, particularly the core muscles, making sure that the sports technique is correct and improving balance and coordination. A very effective method is Clinical Pilates run by trained physiotherapists.