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What You Need to Know About Your Children & Sports Injuries

young boy at soccer game sitting out with sports injury

As the weather continues to get warmer, youth sports are picking back up. Youth sports are a great way to engage children in teamwork and physical activity but, for some kids, it could lead to bumps and bruises or even more serious injury. We’re breaking down how to know when a sports injury is minor, or more serious, and what you can do about them.

Proceed with Caution

While many young athletes are quick to complain about pain, some are willing to play through that pain if a trusted adult tells them to do so. Playing through serious injuries may cause injuries to worsen which could cause issues well into their teen years. When your child complains of pain, or acts as if they are in pain even if they aren’t voicing it, take it seriously. Have them stop playing until you can have the pain thoroughly evaluated. Many times, children ignore the pain and their body attempts to accommodate for the pain by altering their gait or posture, which could lead to further injuries.

Avoid Pain and Injuries with Properly-fitting Cleats

Many parents don’t realize this, but one of the most common causes of injuries in youth sports is poor or improperly fitted footwear. Most athletic cleats are basically a thin shoe with spikes and very little ankle support. The constant running and changing of body position during sports, combined with the design of the cleats, add up to an increased risk for foot and ankle sprains, as well as lower leg fractures.

When shopping for cleats for your child’s next sports season, here are some rules to live by:

  • Avoid hand-me-downs or used cleats. These fit poorly as they may have been worn down or have molded to the prior athlete’s foot shape and gait habits. Remember, one size does not fit all.

  • While some athletes like to have cleats that fit extremely tightly to minimize shifting of the foot within the shoe, such a tight fit adds excess pressure to the toes. With the forward motion of running, the toes are already bearing a high load, and tight shoes don’t help. As your child grows throughout the season, be sure to replace their cleats as needed in order to ensure proper fit.

Common injuries in youth sports range from minor to serious, but they all should taken seriously and treated with care to prevent worsening symptoms or future related injuries. Among the most common injuries are:

Stress Fractures in Children

Stress fractures are difficult to see and, as a result, may not be diagnosed right away. Symptoms typically begin as a nagging pain, often with localized swelling but no bruising, and may not show up on x-rays. Treatment for stress fractures usually involves rest and time off. For younger children, or those who are more active, a cast or splint can be utilized to prevent excess activity that may aggravate the injury.

Overuse Injuries for Youth Athletes

The most common overuse injury is usually tendonitis (often of the Achilles tendon at the back of the heel) or plantar fasciitis (affecting the fibrous band stretching down the length of the foot). These types of injuries typically occur gradually and worsen over time. While the most common symptoms are pain, inflammation, and stiffness; for most children, discomfort is present along the growth plate of the calcaneus (heel bone). Suggested treatments for overuse injuries include rest, ice or cold compression, and elevation of the affected area (remember these steps using the acronym RICE). In more extreme cases, immobilization of the foot in a splint or bandage may be necessary.

Ankle Sprains

Ranging from minor to severe, sprains are extremely common in youth sports, particularly those where an athlete makes a sudden turn or change of position, twisting the ankle in the process. It’s vital that a podiatrist assesses the injury to determine how severe the sprain is and also to differentiate it from a fracture. Sprain treatment is similar to overuse injury treatment, with RICE and immobilization, although treatment may not take as long for a sprain.

Toe Fractures and How to Treat Them

While the most common cause of a toe fracture is an improperly-fitted cleat, it’s also likely to occur in any sport where kicking a ball is incorporated. Oftentimes, the symptoms result in pain and swelling, but for many, the result is a fracture of the large toe. Little can be done to treat a toe fracture other than rest. “Buddy taping”, or taping the toe to its neighboring toe, may help relieve pain and keep the toe still. Ultimately, with a toe fracture, your child will need to avoid returning to sports and regular activities until the toe is healed completely.

Children’s Ingrown Toenails

Ingrown toenails are particularly common in youth athletes who sport improperly fitted cleats. An ingrown toenail may cause intense pain, particularly when kicking a ball. A podiatrist may easily and quickly treat an ingrown toenail, and in most cases, your child can return to play the very next day. Without treatment, however, an ingrown toenail may result in an infection which could spread beyond the toe.

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