How to Prevent the Most Common Sports Injuries in Kids

By Richard Asa and Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
May 26, 2023
How to Prevent the Most Common Sports Injuries in Kids

You can’t keep your kids safe all the time, but with your input many common sports injuries are avoidable. Here's what you can do to lower their risk.

Most sports-related injuries in children and teens occur during practice, rather than a game.

Such injuries are common. In fact, one in three children who plays a team sport is injured badly enough to miss practice or games, the nonprofit Safe Kids Worldwide reports. About 70 percent of young players leave team sports by middle school simply because it’s no longer fun, one study found.

It's best not to pressure your kids too hard to be “the best” or win, instead emphasizing fun and safety.


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Teach safety when children are young

Children face different risks than adults do.

“Children show increasing independence from their parents, and they’re learning what their bodies can and can’t do,” says David Schwebel, PhD, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Youth Safety Lab. “Children have to constantly evaluate their body’s capacity in terms of balancing, reaching, jumping, or leaping, or hitting an opponent or a teammate.”

Kids, especially those younger than 8, are less coordinated and may have slower reaction times than adults.

Kids also mature at different rates, with differences in height and weight between children of the same age. When kids of varying sizes play sports together, the risk of injury increases.

Your kids will take physical risks for various reasons, including peer pressure. But they can make better decisions in real time if you’ve talked to them about sports safety and taught them to use helmets, pads, and proper shoes.

Although sports are generally linked to better mental health, teens playing organized sports need encouragement not to push themselves so hard that they feel burned out.

Most common sports injuries in kids

More than 775,000 children, ages 14 and younger, are treated in hospital emergency rooms for sports-related injuries each year. Most were the result of falls, being struck by an object, collisions, and overexertion during unorganized or informal sports activities.

Although more children are injured playing football, bicycling, and playing basketball, baseball has the highest fatality rate for children ages 5 to 14.

About half of all head injuries occur during bicycling, skateboarding, or skating incidents.

Playground accidents cause the most injuries up until age 9, cycling falls peak at around age 12, and team sports cause the most injuries for teens.

How to prevent common sports injuries

Pediatric sports medicine expert R. Jay Lee, MD, at Johns Hopkins, offers these tips:

  1. Make sure your child understands not to keep practicing or playing through pain. Tell the child to talk to you or the coach if he or she feels discomfort.
  2. Have them get a preseason physical to address any injuries.
  3. Encourage cross-training and a variety of sports so they don’t put pressure repeatedly on the same muscles and joints. Avoid overuse injuries from early specialization. A good example is a young baseball pitcher who throws too much and too hard or throws curve balls too soon.
  4. Stress a good warmup, including both static and dynamic stretches (when the body is moving).
  5. Stress the importance of rest. That means getting enough sleep during the season and taking time away from a sport.
  6. A regular diet with fruit, vegetables, and lean proteins will help keep your child fit. Some sports emphasize gaining weight and can lead kids into unsafe eating habits.
  7. Water, water, water. It’s easy to get a heat-related illness (with symptoms like fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and fainting) if you play too hard on a hot day without drinking. Kids need to drink every 15 to 20 minutes while they’re active. Teach them never to play without appropriate protective equipment, including sunscreen.
  8. Emphasize proper technique for that sport. There’s a right way — and wrong way — to tackle in football. Your player should know how many throws to make in a baseball day. Make sure your child understands that breaking the rules leads to injury.

Take your children to a doctor if they have pain during or after playing, a persistent or new swelling around a joint, unstable joints, painful pops, and pain that doesn’t respond to rest.

Parents and coaches need to remind themselves and each other of the rules as well. A national survey by Safe Kids Worldwide found that many are uninformed.

For example, nearly half of all coaches indicated that they have felt pressure to keep an injured player in a game and three of 10 to keep playing kids even when hurt.

Few knew that kids need two to three months off from a specific sport, or a season, every year, and at least one entirely free day a week.

With the discipline to do things right, kids can avoid injury and keep playing.


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May 26, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN