The best time to start thinking about how to protect your child during a rigorous winter sports season is well before the season begins, by finding the right gear and helping them prepare physically.
Whether you are fitting hockey equipment, basketball shoes, or buying ski bindings, they must fit the young athlete well. Don't hesitate to turn to a salesperson, coach, or other team parents for help. It's easy to see that a good fit in equipment like helmets, skates, and elbow pads for hockey players can go a long way in preventing injury. Pay attention to basketball shoes, too: Finding the best fit will help prevent foot and ankle injuries. Appropriately sized and tensioned ski and snowboarding equipment can also prevent knee and other injuries.
Depending on your athlete's age, another important preseason consideration is physical preparation. As most athletes reach puberty, they need to prepare physically for an upcoming season more than in the past. Failing to prepare for these inevitable changes through strengthening and stretching exercises can result in training or physical contact injuries.
During the season, injuries can be caused by contact - with another player or an object - or overuse. Contact injuries can result in contusions, bruises, or fractures and often require a trainer or physician's attention.
Overuse injuries are caused by stress on bones, muscles, or ligaments. These injuries include a unique subgroup, commonly called “growing pains,” that can affect athletes nearing or just beyond puberty. Many overuse injuries are relatively benign but can limit an athlete's ability to play effectively.
Don't discount the role that common illnesses, like colds, can play in an athlete's safety. Eating and sleeping right are important for maintaining the immune system during times of stress. All athletes should have a physical exam to ensure they're fit to play before the season starts.
In case of injury
Whether an injury is acute or due to overuse, any child who develops symptoms that persist or affect his or her athletic performance should be examined by an orthopaedic surgeon. A child should never be allowed or expected to “work through the pain.”
Basic treatment for many simple injuries is often “RICE”: rest, ice, compression, elevation.
Signs that warrant a visit to an orthopaedic surgeon include:
– Inability to play following an acute or sudden injury;
– Decreased ability to play because of chronic or long-term complications following an injury;
– Visible deformity of the athlete's arm or leg; and/or
– Severe pain from acute injuries that prevent the use of an arm or leg.
Treatment usually involves specific recommendations for temporary or permanent adjustment in athletic activity. During this time, the young athlete may require simple observation or some combination of therapy, bracing, and strengthening exercises.
Successful treatment requires cooperation and open communication among the patient, parents, coaches, and doctors.
Dr. Joel Boyd practices at TRIA Orthopaedic Center and is also the team physician for the Minnesota Wild and assistant team physician for the Minnesota Timberwolves. For more information American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons go to http://www.AAOS.org and the National Athletic Trainers' Association http://www.NATA.org