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Sports Safety: The Manual Every Parent Needs

Most Common Injuries

Face and head injuries, ankle and wrist sprains and strains

Preventive Measures
Child with injured knee

iStockphoto

Have your child wear a snug-fitting batting helmet with an ear protector and a face guard, which will also protect against eye injuries while batting. Make sure your child's league uses breakaway bases, which can be dislodged by a sliding runner, minimizing the risk of ankle injuries. (If the league doesn't use them, gently pressure the coach to get them; consider taking up a collection from parents or having a fund-raiser to pay for them, since they are more expensive than the old' fashioned variety.)

Find out if the coach limits the number of throws to decrease the risk of elbow and shoulder injuries. Be sure your child's baseball mitt fits securely enough so that it won't fall off easily but isn't so tight she can't move her fingers.

Often-Overlooked Safety Move

If your child is prone to ankle injuries, have her tape her ankles (ask the coach to show you how to do this) or wear ankle braces during play (Aircast or McDavid are good brands; both are available at major sporting goods stores).

Most Common Injuries

Broken fingers, sprained or strained wrists, knees, and ankles

Preventive Measures
basketball_pix

Ask the coach to evaluate your child to see if he's mastered the basic skills (dribbling, passing, and catching properly) before playing in a game. Invest in well-fitting, high-quality, high-top sneakers, and have your child wear ankle braces or tape his ankles and perform ankle-strengthening exercises if he's had a previous ankle injury. See if the coach conducts warm-up exercises and teaches kids to plant their feet and pivot before playing games; these steps can decrease the risk of many injuries to the lower extremities.

Often-Overlooked Safety Move

It's important that your child has a chance to warm up before playing. "Sometimes children arrive right at game time," Dr. Landry notes. "A child needs 10 to 15 minutes to warm up the muscles and ease into play."

Most Common Injuries

Head injuries, facial cuts, broken wrists, cuts to the lower leg

Preventive Measures
bicycling_pix

Make sure your child wears a hard-shelled bike helmet horizontally on her head, with the chin strap securely fastened. Double-check the bike size: While sitting with her hands gripping the handlebars, she should be able to put the balls of both feet on the ground. For boys, there should be at least an inch of space between the crotch and the bar when he's standing.

Often-Overlooked Safety Move

Teach your child how to ride with traffic, obey Stop and Yield signs, note who has the right of way, and so on, before even considering letting her ride off the sidewalk. And then use your best judgment about whether she'll actually practice these rules.

Most Common Injuries

Broken, sprained, or strained shoulders and knees, wrists, and fingers

Preventive Measures
football_pix

Make sure helmets, shoulder pads, and athletic cups fit correctly and have ample padding. Insist your child always wear a mouth guard to prevent mouth injuries, and a neck collar or neck roll to prevent spine injuries. Let him play only under the supervision of an experienced, safety-conscious coach who teaches proper technique (for tackling and catching, for example), doesn't do excessive drills, and heeds the league's rules.

Often-Overlooked Safety Move

Be sure your child stays hydrated all year round, not just in hot weather. The uniform's heavy padding makes players hot, regardless of the season.

Most Common Injuries

Lower arm fractures, ankle and wrist sprains and strains

Preventive Measures
gymnastics_pix

"Check out the coaches," says Dr. Malina. "A lot of them are preoccupied with small body size, which can lead to eating disorders, and many work the children too hard. They may do inordinate repetitions of certain moves, which can lead to injuries." Because gymnastics is a high-impact sport (and that impact is being placed on a still-growing skeleton), it's crucial to have adequate mats and padding placed securely around equipment. Wrist guards or braces should be worn for some events, like vaulting, and spotting -- close physical monitoring by an experienced coach -- is essential.

Often-Overlooked Safety Move

"A coach shouldn't ask a child to attempt skills that aren't within reach of her level," advises Dr. Landry. To determine whether this is happening, ask your child how comfortable she is with her routine. If she seems particularly stressed out or down on herself, talk to her coach about whether it's possible she's being pushed beyond what she's currently capable of handling.

Most Common Injuries

Broken wrists or forearms, bruised knees, facial cuts

Preventive Measures
inline_pix

Insist that your child wear a helmet, wrist guards, elbow pads, knee pads, and gloves. Have him take a lesson while learning to skate; this is when injuries are most likely to occur. Make sure the lesson includes instruction in how to stop properly. Encourage him to practice on a smooth, flat surface. Tell him to go slowly until he can skate with control and can avoid colliding with objects.

Often-Overlooked Safety Move

Be sure the brake isn't worn down, making it hard to stop quickly. And make it an absolute no-no to hang on to the back of a moving car while skating -- a highly dangerous practice called "skitching"; this can result in serious injury.

Sprained or strained wrists, knees, or ankles, broken fingers

Preventive Measures
soccer_pix

If your child is prone to ankle injuries, consider taping her ankles or having her wear ankle braces in addition to shin guards. If she has heel pain, place a heel pad or cup in her cleats. Make sure she heads the ball properly -- with the forehead -- but in moderation: Research shows that repeated heading of the ball can cause low-grade concussions; the AAP suggests limiting heading drills with kids until more is known.

Often-Overlooked Safety Move

Have your child use a waterproof, synthetic ball on wet fields or when it's raining to decrease risk of injury. Try to minimize your child's tournament play: "Tournaments often have kids playing three to four games over a weekend -- that's ridiculous," says Dr. Malina. "Pros don't play that much. Children get tired and fatigue is a factor in injury."

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons in Rosemont, IL

Steven J. Anderson, M.D., chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness

Greg Landry, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin Medical School in Madison and past president of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine

Robert M. Malina, Ph.D., director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University in East Lansing

The National Safe Kids Campaign in Washington, DC

Bob Schafermeyer, M.D., associate chair and fellowship director for sports medicine in the department of emergency medicine at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC

J. Andy Sullivan, M.D., chairman of the department of orthopedics at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine in Oklahoma City

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in Washington, DC