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Preventing Children's Injuries From Sports and Other Activities

Topic Overview

Being active is an important part of growing up healthy, in body and in mind. But active kids can get hurt, especially when they don't know their safety basics.

As a parent, you can't protect your child from every injury. But you can help your child keep safety in mind.

How can you help your child get ready for a sport or activity?

Schedule a sports physical to make sure that your child has no health problems. If your child has an illness or a problem with his or her 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, ask your doctor for exercises or to recommend a physical therapist.

Learn about the common risks of your child's sport or activity. Then work with your child to prepare and protect against injuries.

How can an active child avoid common injuries?

Most sport-related injuries are from impact, overuse, or poor body mechanics.

To reduce your active child's risk of injury, you can:

  • Always use the right safety gear. Learn about the proper fit of that gear. Replace it as your child grows.
  • Make sure that your child learns proper form and technique from a class, coach, or athletic trainer. If possible, help your child build skill and strength before the sports season starts.
  • Teach your child to take pain and tiredness seriously and not 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, trampoline use, and driving or riding on motorized bikes and vehicles.

What safety gear does your child need?

Safety gear helps protect your child. Before your child starts a new activity, get the right safety gear and teach your child how to use it.

Just as important is the example you set for your child. Always use safety gear for your own activities, such as a helmet for bike riding.

Depending on the sport or activity, your child may need some of these items:

  • Helmets help protect against concussion (traumatic brain injury). Use a helmet for any activity that can cause a fall or an impact to the neck or head, such as bike riding, football, baseball, ATV riding, skateboarding, skiing, inline skating, or horseback riding.
  • Shoes help protect feet from injury. Sandals or 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, horseback riding, rugby, martial arts, gymnastics, baseball, ice or field hockey, soccer, and lacrosse.
  • 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, and sliding shorts for baseball and softball. For boys, an athletic supporter and cup is often recommended.
  • Braces include wrist guards for snowboarding and inline skating, ankle braces for volleyball, and knee-savers for baseball and softball catchers.

How can your child avoid injury from overuse?

Any repeat movement or impact can cause an overuse injury such as pain or soreness, inflammation, or 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 of overuse injury 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.

To help your child avoid overuse injuries:

  • 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.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting one sport to no more than 5 days a week, with at least 1 day off each week from any organized physical activity. Also, the AAP suggests that athletes have at least 2 to 3 months off each year from their particular sport.1

How can your child avoid dehydration and heat-related illness?

When your child is active and not drinking enough fluids, dehydration is a risk. The muscles get tired quickly, and your child may have leg cramps while walking or running.

Playing hard and sweating without drinking fluids can cause dehydration and overheating. To prevent dehydration, teach your child to:

  • 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 he or she gets dizzy or lightheaded or feels very tired.
  • Wear clothes that help cool the body.

Before, after, and during activity, water is the best choice for children and teens. A sports drink may be useful if your child has exercised intensively or for a long period of time.

References

Citations

  1. Brenner JS, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (2007). Overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout in child and adolescent athletes. American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Pediatrics, 119(6): 1242–1245.

Other Works Consulted

  • Disease Control and Prevention (2011). Nonfatal traumatic brain injuries related to sports and recreation activities among persons less than or equal to 19 years—United States, 2001–2009. MMWR, 60(39): 1337–1376.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Heather Chambliss, PhD - Exercise Science
Last Revised September 26, 2013

Last Revised: September 26, 2013

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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