How to protect your young athlete

Sometimes they wear helmets to keep them safe. Sometimes they don pads to protect against injury. Sometimes there is nothing standing between your young athlete and a hard hit. But parents can always be the first line of defense when it comes to making sure a child is ready for the game.

Last year, Dayton Children’s emergency department treated more than 2,000 sports-related injuries. They aren’t always from an impact on the field or the court. All too frequently, the injury comes from simply doing too much, too soon or too often.

So the first thing parents can do is make sure their child has a sports physical. Experts at Dayton Children’s Hospital say there are some very important reasons why you should always stick with your primary care pediatrician for this critical exam.

“Even if your child is healthy and never had a problem with sports before, the sports physical is not something that should be rushed through or done by someone who does not know your child,” says Lora Scott, MD, co-director of sports medicine at Dayton Children’s.

The sports physical serves three main purposes.

First, it identifies old injuries. Those are listed in your child’s medical record at the pediatrician’s office. The doctor can give advice on how to treat that injury so it doesn’t happen again. Second, it allows time to talk about other conditions that could impact performance, like asthma or allergies. And third, it lets a doctor identify any rare conditions that could cause sudden death during exertion.

The stories are out there, and they’re always tragic: a child dies during sports and people wonder what could have been done to prevent it. Your pediatrician is trained to spot the “red flags” that could signal a potentially deadly condition.

“If your child’s pediatrician finds one of these red flags during a sports physical, they can make safe exercise recommendations while awaiting additional test results to rule out a potentially serious condition,” Scott said.

Parents can also get a baseline concussion test on their child. Concussions can happen in any sport when a child takes a blow to the head. Symptoms range from a headache and confusion to vomiting and seizures. Each child is unique; therefore, having a baseline is much more helpful in managing a concussion, should one occur. Comparing the pre- and post-concussion test scores can help determine when an athlete is ready to return to normal activities. Dayton Children’s offers free baseline testing on a walk-in basis to children ages 10-21.

Parents can also make sure their child doesn’t go overboard.

“Make sure they ease into a sport they haven’t played in a while, warming up and getting used to the physical activity again,” Scott said. “Also encourage them to change up their activities, so they aren’t constantly doing the same motions, like throwing a baseball, which can lead to over-use injuries.”

If your child does suffer an injury, it’s important to get it treated immediately. Growing bodies need extra attention so the injury doesn’t lead to lifelong damage.

This look at a children’s health or safety issue comes from Dayton Children’s Hospital.

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