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Keep your little athlete injury-free

As children head back to school, many of them will be investing time and energy into organized sports, such as football, cheerleading, basketball, volleyball and gymnastics. Participation in these activities is very important for building strong bones, but also increases the chance for an accident. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends that coaches and parents take precautions to protect children from sports-related injuries as they kick off the fall season.

Exercising through Zumba! 

"Sports can be a great way for young people to get the exercise they need, while also developing social skills and having fun," says Michael Schafer, MD, orthopaedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and spokesperson for the Academy. "Because children's bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons are still growing, they are more susceptible to injury than adults. Parents and coaches should always be on alert to ensure that kids' sports involvement does not do more harm than good."

The 2006 statistics from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission underscore the extent of this problem:

* Football is the leading cause of fall sports injuries in people age 18 and under - sending 976,566 of them to hospital emergency rooms, doctors’ offices and clinics.

* Basketball is next on the list with 913,300 injuries to that same age group.

* Other fall sports include volleyball with 92,509 injuries, gymnastics with 71,057, cheerleading with 66,216 and field hockey with 11,066.

Teams vs. individual sports

The Academy offers the following strategies for parents and coaches to help young athletes prevent fall sports injuries:

* Have your child always warm up and stretch before exercising, particularly when the weather is cold. Athletes should warm up with some light exercise for at least 3 to 5 minutes, then slowly and gently stretch the muscles to be exercised, holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds.

* Make sure a coach with the appropriate training heads your child's program.

* It is important for your child to stay active during the summer, so that he is prepared to begin participating in fall sports.

* Have kids take frequent water breaks to prevent dehydration and overheating.

* Discourage dangerous tactics of play and risky techniques. Strictly enforce appropriate rules to minimize overuse of growing bones.

* Never push a child beyond the point of safety, physically or emotionally.

* Check to make sure equipment is adequately maintained and used properly. Protective equipment such as padding, headgear, mouth guards and cups, must fit properly and their use must be strictly enforced.

* Learn to recognize early signs of pain and discomfort in children, and teach children to be aware of those signs as well. Let them know they should notify their coach or parent as soon as they experience any pain.

* Require each child see a physician to undergo a pre-season physical.

Co-ed sports, are there different rules?

Youth sports should always be fun. A "win at all costs" attitude can lead to injuries, because a young athlete striving to meet the unrealistic expectations of others may ignore the warning signs of injury and continue to play with pain. Support from parents and coaches, whether young athletes win or lose, can be their greatest protection.