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HEALTH TIP OF THE MONTH

Safe Summer Sports: 8 Ways to Help Your Child Avoid Injuries

Paul Lastova, PT, DSc, is a senior physical therapist at the Outpatient Specialty Rehabilitation Center at Inova Loudon Hospital.

Organized sports are great ways for kids to get regular physical activity, to learn discipline and teamwork and to just have fun. But sports injuries can easily sideline all those benefits.

Luckily, many sports injuries are preventable. With the right preparation, kids can cut their chances of suffering both traumatic injuries (such as broken bones or concussions) and overuse injuries (such as tendonitis or stress fractures).

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Want to help your young athlete prepare for a healthy season? These 8 tips will get you started:

  1. Get a medical check-up before the sports season begins. All kids should visit their pediatrician or general practitioner to make sure they’re healthy enough to play, but it’s especially important if your child has a health condition, such as asthma or diabetes.
  2. Stay in shape during the offseason. Athletes should do some form of strength training during the offseason, so they are in good shape when the season begins. Core strength (a strong abdomen and back) is important for everyone, no matter what sport they play.
  3. Variety is valuable. Playing a single sport year-round increases the risk of injury. We recommend kids play different sports and also try out different positions. It’s good to mix it up.
  4. Check your gear. Athletes should wear the proper equipment and make sure it’s in good condition. That means pads and helmets, when appropriate, but also good footwear. Kids’ athletic shoes can wear out quickly, so check them regularly to make sure they’re in good shape.
  5. Protect the skin. When playing outdoors, sunscreen is a must for preventing skin cancer.
  6. Warm up and cool down. Kids are often eager to jump right into practice or a game. But it’s important to warm up, so their muscles are ready to perform. Kids should warm up gently until they start to perspire. (Warm-ups depend on the sport, but imagine a light jog before a sprint, for example, or gentle laps before a swim meet.) After exercise, we recommend cooling down with light aerobic activity and stretching for about 10 minutes to slow the heart rate and promote muscle recovery.
  7. Stay hydrated. Drinking water is important year-round, but it’s especially critical to get enough water during the summer. I recommend that kids drink at least 16 ounces of water 15 to 30 minutes before exercise, take regular water breaks during play and drink another 16 ounces afterward.
  8. Take injuries seriously. If a child complains of pain, they should see a physician to get checked out. Other signs that something might be wrong include:
  • Limping or favoring one side of the body over the other
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Discomfort using a joint or limb off the playing field, such as while cutting food or writing with a pencil
  • Localized tenderness over a bone, which could be a sign of bone fracture
  • Headache, irritability, dizziness, confusion, sleep problems, difficulty remembering or problems concentrating. These can be signs of a concussion.

If your child is recovering from a sports injury, learn more about Inova’s world-class rehabilitation services.

We also offer baseline concussion testing to evaluate athletes’ balance, visual and neuropsychological skills before an injury. That way, if they experience a suspected head injury, we can test them again to see how their skills compare. For more information or to schedule an appointment,

call 703-776-4700 or learn more about the Inova Concussion Clinic.