Childhood Sports Injuries: When to Seek Medical Care

Posted: June 07, 2019
Categories: Healthy Living
Childhood Sports Injuries

Pediatric sports participation promotes physical fitness, skill acquisition, teamwork, and social interaction.  The focus of pediatric sport participation should be fitness, fun, and safety.

Sticks and stones
Minor “bumps and bruises” such as sprains, strains and contusions are common in sports, but fractures are also frequent in children.  Growing children have open growth plates (physes), which are much more prone to injury than the surrounding bone, making the growth plates more susceptible to injury. Growth plate injuries have the potential to lead to growth arrest or growth deformity and must be treated conservatively” says Katerina Backus, MD, FAAP, CAQSM, a pediatric sports medicine physician in Orlando.

Though you may assume a broken bone will be obvious, children’s bones are more flexible than adults, and a buckling of the bone may occur in young athletes versus clean break. "Falling on the forearm and creating a buckle (torus) fracture is not uncommon in active kids," says Dr. Backus. "A child with a buckle fracture may still be able to move their arm; pain, swelling, or limited use of the arm may be clues that should prompt evaluation by a physician. In addition, any growth plate injury should be evaluated by a pediatric orthopedic specialist."

Twist and shout
Sprains and strains are the most common athletic injuries in children but should not be ignored.  An incompletely healed ankle sprain may lead to long-term ankle instability, and risk for reinjury," says Dr. Backus. "Some treatments for youth athletes have shown promise in preventing ankle injury, such as ankle strengthening, balance training, and lace-up ankle braces. Contrary to popular belief, high top shoes have not been found to significantly prevent ankle injury."

Recovery from a sprain or strain is often summarized using the acronym PRICE:

  • PROTECT the area (braces or crutches)
  • REST (from activity)
  • ICE the affected area
  • COMPRESS the area (such as ACE wrapping)
  • ELEVATE the affected area above the heart

Who is at the most risk?
Boys tend to break bones more often than girls — more than 50 percent more often, according to one study. When it comes to knee injuries, female athletes face a much higher risk. "They are as much as eight times as likely as boys to tear a critical knee ligament, called the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL," says Dr. Backus.

When an injury can’t wait
Dr. Backus urges a "better safe than sorry" approach when you’re unsure about the severity of your child's sports injury.  "The difference between a torn muscle or ligament and a broken bone is not always clear. All three typically involve pain and difficulty moving a body part. If the injury is still painful after a few hours or there is significant swelling, your child should be evaluated by a medical professional," she says. "If your child can’t move the joint or experiences severe pain, swelling, numbness, or difficulty walking, you should seek immediate medical attention."

About Dr. Backus
Katerina Backus, MD, FAAP is a board-certified pediatric sports medicine physician. Her specialties include pediatric sports injuries, nonoperative musculoskeletal injuries, and concussion management. Dr Backus is nationally ranked in the 99th percentile in Press Ganey Patient Satisfaction scores in her specialty. Dr Backus believes in delivering compassionate, patient and family-centered care to her patients.  To learn more or schedule an appointment, call (407) 303-5687.