Encouraging kids to be physically active is often a gateway to a lifetime of physical and emotional health. Exercise helps kids build social and team skills, reduces their chance of childhood obesity and offers a sense of well-being. But recreational and organized sports aren’t without risk. Over half the seven million annual sports- and recreation-related injuries are in children as young as five years old, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here are four ways to promote safe play among kids.
1) Insist on a mouth guard. According to estimates, 67 to 84 percent of children do not wear mouth guards while playing sports, mainly because they aren’t required. Without a guard, the chance of your child’s teeth getting knocked out or damaged are 60 times greater. Mouth guards are among the cheapest gear that money can buy—and they protect not only the teeth, but the jaw. If your child is involved in a contact sport, it’s a no-brainer to get a sport-appropriate mouth guard. Tip: Ask your dentist if you’re uncertain about which kind of mouth guard to buy.
2) Wear protective eyewear. Hand/eye coordination is just starting to develop at age five. That may be why stray pitches and foul balls are responsible for many baseball-related eye injuries. Accidental jabs in the eye are common in basketball or football. Add to that the short attention span of a child who hasn’t had the chance to develop good safety habits and you have a recipe for eye trauma. Even college and professional athletes now wear visors to protect their eyes. Tip: If your child wears glasses, explore protective lenses and/or a face shield around a helmet.
3) Use protective headwear. Each year, 135,000 children are treated for head injuries, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cycling, football, baseball, softball and basketball are the leading causes for head injuries. Research has shown that children 11 and under are particularly susceptible to permanent damage from multiple brain injuries. Some doctors say the very thing that makes a child’s brain receptive to learning also makes it vulnerable to injury: it’s still growing. For all these reasons, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests protective headwear for everything from sledding and skateboarding to contact sports. Tip: Helmets should fit snugly without being overly tight.
4) Train kids for proper movement. “Our angle is to prevent injuries by making sure kids learn to move properly,” said Steve Krzyminski, a sports performance specialist at Indiana University Sports Performance. He and his colleagues use a Functional Movement Screen to evaluate athletes as young as seven years old. Those results are used to create individual improvement plans, starting with flexibility and mobility and progressing to stability and strength. “If we can teach kids proper movement patterns early, those habits will follow them through their entire athletic careers,” Krzyminski says.
To prepare your child for spring or summer sports, contact IU Health Sports Performance at (317) 848-5867 for a customized, sports-specific training program. Each program includes a Functional Movement Screen to identify body imbalances that could lead to injury, plus corrective exercises to strengthen those imbalances. Watch for information about our 2013 summer camps.