Ally Carr was learning how to slide into home plate this spring when she tore the meniscus in her knee. She had to have surgery to repair the tear and missed much of the season.
The 16-year-old softball catcher at Maret School in Washington, D.C., hopes to be fully recovered in time to play volleyball in the fall.
More than 38 million children and teens play sports in the United States each year, according to Safe Kids Worldwide, and it’s taking a toll. About one in three kids playing team sports is injured seriously enough to miss practice or a game. Those who, like Ally, play multiple sports that put pressure on the same body part are at an increased risk for injury.
Ally’s mother, Kate Carr, is president and chief executive of Safe Kids. She says Ally is trying to condition her knees to better withstand the pressure that volleyball and softball put on them.
Her organization, which works to prevent childhood injuries, is trying to raise awareness of youth sports injuries and teach children, parents and coaches how to prevent them or minimize their effects.
“We need to begin to help our children understand that if you want to have a lifetime of being active, you have to protect your body while you’re young,” Carr said. “If you don’t, it will either limit your ability to play this sport that you love or it will cause a lifetime of damage.”
Here’s what experts say about some common sports risks for children and how to recognize, prevent and treat them.
“When they raise those questions or symptoms, then we invoke the rule ‘When in doubt, sit them out,’” Gioia said. “Remove the youngster from playing, let the parent know, and seek medical attention immediately.”
Gioia and his colleagues have developed a smartphone app called Concussion Recognition and Response to help coaches and parents evaluate athletes after a blow to the head.
There is no set treatment for concussions that will fit all children, Gioia said, but parents and coaches should manage the child’s activity level to give the brain time to heal itself. After a concussion, a child needs rest from physical and mental activities, and a gradual return to normal, as long as it doesn’t aggravate her symptoms.
Sweating is “really the best method of cooling we have,” Rice said. “If you grab a towel and keep wiping yourself off, you’ve lost a chance to cool off. It’s not the production of sweat but evaporation of sweat that cools you.”
Start the cooling process immediately, Rice said, even if you are calling 911. Don’t wait for medical help to arrive.
Other ways to prevent heat illness include gradually building up workouts so the child can get used to exercising in warm weather. Adjust the practice schedule, activities and expectations to match the weather conditions, Rice said, and allow at least two hours of rest between practice sessions.
“Kids are getting more overspecialized at an earlier age,” said Laurel Blakemore, head of orthopedics at Children’s National Medical Center. She added: “Specializing in one sport at too young an age can lead to injuries, along with burnout.”