Focus on Pediatrics: Teach parents sports injury prevention

Organized sports seem like a healthful activity for children, yet they could be hazardous to their health. Serious injuries occur time and again, but they can be prevented if parents take a few precautions before signing their child up for a sport, says Michelle Klein, executive director of the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation in Boston.

What steps do parents need to take to prevent sports injuries in their children? Following are a few suggestions from Klein:

Schedule a pre-participation physical. Before children play sports, they should see a physician who specializes in sports medicine, says Klein. Such a specialist will know to look for misaligned hips and knees, leg length discrepancy, and tight muscles, which can put children at risk for injury. Such problems can put stress on different joints and cause fractures or pulled muscles, she says.

Screen the coach. Parents should find out if the person who will be coaching their child is trained in CPR and first aid and has taken a coaching certification course. It’s a good idea to ask if the coach has played the sport and at what level, says Klein. "Also talking to other parents whose kids have been in the program is a good resource."

Help the child get in shape. The first day of practice should not be the first time in months the child is playing sports. Children should be training for several weeks prior to team practice. Those who aren’t in shape are more likely to be injured, says Klein.

Purchase good equipment. Parents should purchase the appropriate sports shoe for their children that fit properly. Poorly fitting shoes can cause back, knee, and hip problems, says Klein. Good safety equipment is also important. If sports require elbow pads or kneepads, children should wear them. For football, a properly fitted helmet is essential. "A helmet should fit snugly on the head with a chin strap. We see incidents where the helmet is too loose and they blow off

the head at the wrong moment, and the child is struck and rushed into brain surgery," says Klein.

Provide proper nutrition and supervision. It is important that children who play sports eat a well-balanced, healthy diet and get enough sleep. In addition, parents need to keep an eye on their children, and when they go through a growth spurt, make sure that they cut back on training.

For more information about sports safety, contact:

Michelle Klein, Executive Director, National Youth Sports Safety Foundation Inc., 333 Longwood Ave., Suite 202, Boston, MA 02115. Telephone: (617) 277-1171. E-mail: nyssf@aol.com. Web: www.nyssf.org. When children continue to train at the same pace, they often injure themselves, says Klein.

The final piece of advice Klein has for parents is to make sure that safety is the priority of any sports program they enroll their children in, not winning.