Proper equipment, proper warm-up prevents sports injuries
DEAR DOCTOR K:
My teenage son plays several school sports. He loves them, but I'm concerned about sports injuries.
Playing sports is a great way for your teen to get regular exercise, meet other teens and learn teamwork. Of course, kids can get injured while playing sports. Fortunately, the risk of serious injury is low. Still, there's a risk.
That's not a reason to prohibit your son from playing sports, but it is a good reason to make sure he plays safely. Many sports injuries can be avoided, and there's a lot that you -- and your son -- can do to help him stay safe.
First, make sure your teen has the proper equipment for the sport he is playing. This includes safety gear such as kneepads, goggles, wrist pads, shin guards, mouth guards, helmets, elbow pads and proper footwear. Make sure that his equipment fits correctly. You might also talk to his coach to be sure that he (and the other kids) use their equipment.
Your teen also needs to warm up and stretch before every practice session or game. Muscles that have not been used in a while tend to be injured more easily. Your teen should first do some light aerobic exercise, such as jogging or jumping jacks, for five to 10 minutes. Then he should spend a few minutes stretching all of his muscles.
Even if your son follows this advice, he still might get injured. If he is, it is critical that he takes time off to allow that injury to heal. Playing too soon increases the chance for re-injury. Get advice from his doctor or team trainer on when he can return to the sport.
When your teen is playing informally, there's no coach around to make sure he's following all of the safety precautions we've talked about. That's when the chance of injury is the highest.
The hardest part of getting a teenager to take safety precautions, of course, is that teenagers think they're immortal. Making sure they protect themselves against injury is not the first thing on their mind. It's not even the last thing.
If they're not worried about getting hurt, how can you convince them to take precautions? Most teenagers care above all about being part of a group. They may not worry about getting hurt, but they surely worry about not being able to play.
So stress that. Make sure your son realizes that if he is injured, he'll have to watch his friends from the sideline. And if he plays hurt, the injury could worsen -- and then he'll have to watch from the sideline for a long time.
So whether you're advising your son to use shoulder pads when playing football, or to wear a helmet and elbow and knee guards when in-line skating with his friends, don't emphasize the injury. Emphasize the consequences of the injury: He won't be one of the guys.
(Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. Go to his website to send questions and get additional information: www.AskDoctorK.com.)
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