Back on the field: How to avoid youth sports injuries this school year

WASHINGTON — Kids are headed back to school and back to the playing field.

An estimated 38 million American children participate in sports each year, according to the National Institutes of Health. And while all this physical activity is welcome, the downside is there are more than 2.6 million visits to emergency rooms each year.

“There is no way to prevent every injury from happening,” said Dr. Andrew Cosgarea, chief of sports medicine in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Johns Hopkins.

Cosgarea said the best way to keep your kid from turning into an injury statistic is to make sure he or she is really prepared to compete. That means having the proper equipment and the patience to ease gradually into a training program.

“It’s a common mistake to go out at the very beginning of your training and do too much the first time,” Cosgarea said, adding it is important to gradually increase the frequency, the duration, and the intensity.

Cosgarea said too many young athletes try to do too much too fast — especially if they skip training during their summer school vacation — and end up with an overuse injury. It may not catch up with them after the first workout, but eventually, they will feel the pain.

Cosgarea said overuse injuries are very common and are much more prevalent than broken bones. But overuse injuries are still not as frequent as the basic bumps, bruises. and sprains that seem to affect every kid at one time or another.

He says it’s best to ramp up training over a period of weeks. “Your body is very good at making small gradual adjustments and working your way to very intense training if you do it slowly and gradually,” he said.

Another problem is the heat and humidity that can plague mid-August practices for fall athletes, such as high school football players. Cosgarea said coaches and athletic trainers are  well-educated on the problems connected to workouts in hot and sticky weather, and it’s something that every parent needs to keep in mind.

Driving this emphasis on safe pre-season workouts are the tragic stories of student athletes who have died after practicing in scorching heat — underscoring the need for schools to ensure there is proper hydration, and flexible work-out schedules.

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