by Michael Suk, MD, JD
Chair of the Geisinger Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
Helmets, padding and mouthguards protect young athletes from many serious injuries. But falls and collisions are inevitable, and sometimes kids get hurt. From the stands, it might be difficult to tell how your child is coping after an incident on the field, but there are signs to watch for during and after the game that could indicate a sports-related injury.
If your child leaves the game with an unexplained headache or nausea, they could be dealing with dehydration. Drinking water is important even when the weather isn’t especially hot — without fluid to act as a shock absorber, dehydration can make athletes more prone to concussions and other injuries.
Confusion after a game is a sign that your child may have suffered a concussion. Thanks to advocacy campaigns in professional sports, you’re probably aware of what to look for, but in activities like track, volleyball and baseball the signs often go undiagnosed. If your young athlete seems confused after a violent shake or sudden impact to the head and neck, take them to a doctor.
Swelling is a signal that your child’s body needs to rest. Make them take a break even if they don’t want to. Apply ice to the swollen area as soon as possible and tell your young athlete to keep their injury elevated. By the third day, the swelling should begin to subside. If there are no changes after a couple of weeks, it’s time to see a doctor.
An unexpected or awkward twist can cause the muscles and ligaments supporting a joint to over-stretch or tear. Most sprains and strains heal themselves with rest and regular icing, but if your child doesn’t notice an improvement in a couple of weeks, something more serious may have happened.
Your child can also get injured without experiencing a fall or a collision. Some injuries develop gradually and are caused by repetitive movements. We see these overuse injuries all the time at our sports medicine clinics — and each year we see them happening to younger kids.
Kids dream of being superstar athletes — maybe winning an athletic scholarship to the college of their choice, or even playing their sport professionally someday. They think the best way to excel is to commit to a sport early, play it all the time and practice, practice, practice.
What kids and many parents don’t realize is that young people are at an increased risk for overuse injuries because their bones are still growing and are less resilient than those of adult athletes. It’s better to try a variety of sports, which put stress on a variety of muscle groups, much like cross-training does, and not think about specializing in a single sport until late adolescence.
If you believe your child is suffering from a sports-related injury, it’s a good idea to find a provider who is trained in pediatrics and sports medicine. Children aren’t just small adults. Their growing bones need to be treated differently. At Geisinger, we’re known for exceptional pediatric orthopaedic care. We have a large trauma team that is available 24 hours a day, and we’re committed to getting your athlete back in the game as quickly — and as safely — as possible.