Every day, millions of kids in the U.S. participate in sports. Participation in athletics
improves physical fitness, coordination, and self-discipline. Many sports encourage teamwork.
Participation occasionally results in injury. Most are minor, some are life altering. Last year
there were approximately 3 ½ million youth sports injuries treated in medical settings.
In children less than 10 years old, injuries usually occur during recreational activities
such as bike riding, skate boarding, and yard play. In contrast, adolescent children are generally
injured during organized sporting events, including football, soccer, and basketball. Bigger kids
tend to have more severe collisions. There is greater force involved due to their size and strength.
Injuries are classified as acute or chronic. They can involve muscle, tendon, ligaments,
and bone. Acute injuries are frequently caused by a collision or sudden twist. This can result in
sprains/strains, contusions, or fractures. Chronic injuries are the result of small, repetitive
injuries occurring over time. Over the last decade, we have seen a significant increase in overuse
injuries, as children and frequently parents, strive for excellence. This is particularly common in
pitchers and running athletes.
Body parts injured may vary by equipment used. Projectile eye injuries occur in baseball
and tennis. Injuries also vary by sport played. Lower extremity injuries are more common in
soccer and basketball. Sex of your child can also play a role in the type of injury that occurs.
Adolescent females tend to have more non-contact knee anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
injuries in basketball and soccer than males.
Fortunately, catastrophic injuries are rare. These injuries can be the result of direct
trauma (football, ice hockey), or may result indirectly (heat stroke).
So how do we prevent, or at least decrease the chances of an injury occurring? Injury
prevention is a dynamic, multi-tiered process that involves close interaction of athletes, coaches,
trainers, medical personnel, and parents. Everyone plays a vital role.
Injury prevention begins with the pre-participation physical evaluation. Your physician
can detect conditions which could make athletic participation dangerous, such as certain cardiac,
respiratory, or orthopedic conditions.
Sports specific conditioning has received a lot of attention recently. The risk of certain
injuries can be minimized by teaching proper training, strengthening, and conditioning
techniques. This is particularly relevant with the prevention of ACL (anterior cruciate ligament)
injuries in adolescent female athletes. The incidence of common overuse elbow and shoulder
injuries can also be minimized by proper training and by limiting the number of pitches and
Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are preventable. We have specific protocols being used
at our High Schools by coaches and trainers to minimize heat exposure. Concussion recognition
and management has also been standardized at our schools. All of our athletes must be cleared
before returning to play.
I am happy to note that in my 20 plus years of treating athletes, I have seen very few
catastrophic injuries. While some injuries are preventable, some simply are not. We owe it to
our kids to help minimize their risk of injury with education, sport specific training and
conditioning, and close monitoring.
Andrew J. Marcus, D.O.
Dr. Marcus is a Board Certified, Fellowship Trained Orthopedic Sports Medicine Specialist with
University Orthopedics Center in State College, PA