Steamboat Springs "Play ball!" Our national pastime has begun, the grass is greening and local playing fields are swarming with young athletes for whom sports are a way of life. April is National Youth Safety Sports Month, an important time for adults to make sure that children are playing it safe.
The National Safe Kids Campaign estimates that each year 3.2 million children ages 5-14 are hurt participating in sports and recreational activities. Locally, however, most of these injuries are relatively minor, according to longtime soccer coach and family practice physician Jim Dudley, M.D.
"We see mostly bruises, bumps, strains and ankle sprains from organized sports," Dudley said. "Our coaches are very conscious of kids' safety. Recreational skiing injuries tend to be more common and more serious than any injuries from team sports."
Annual physical exams are required for middle school and high school team sports. Dudley said younger children don't necessarily need exams, but parents should be aware that their children's strength, flexibility, endurance, and overall health conditions are important factors in their ability to play sports.
Many injuries occur at the beginning of the season, when young athletes are more likely to be out of shape. Staying active year-round in some sort of physical activity can help prevent injuries.
Steamboat Sailors football players can attest that a proper warm-up is an important part of a sports routine. Running in place, jumping jacks, and the gentle stretching of leg, torso, neck and arm muscles are all good ways to limber up stiff muscles and tendons.
Broken bones or dislocated joints are obvious injuries, but young athletes whose bones are still growing are also at risk for chronic repetitive injuries, or overuse injuries. Stress fractures and muscle tears are caused when actions such as running, throwing a baseball, or flexing the lower back are repeated again and again.
To help prevent overuse injuries, Sports Parents magazine recommends that children spend no more than five days a week playing any one sport. Year-round specialization in a single sport is not recommended. Overuse injuries may be less likely to occur in kids who participate in two or more sports over a year.
Children don't have to be placed in a suit of armor to protect them from injury, but they do need the right equipment for the sport. Proper footwear is important. Shoes that are too loose, too small, not suited to the sport or not broken-in can cause injuries to feet, knees and ankles. Protective gear such as face masks, wrist guards and knee pads can substantially reduce the likelihood and severity of injuries.
Wearing a helmet is required for many sports and recommended for others. To reduce the possibility of brain injuries, Dudley reminds children to wear helmets for in-line skating, skateboarding, baseball, softball, bicycling, rugby, lacrosse, football and skiing. "It's important for parents to set a good example by wearing their helmets," he added.
For more information on youth sports safety, visit the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation Web site at www.nyssf.org or the National Safe Kids Campaign Web site at www.safekids.org.
Christine McKelvie is the public relations director for Yampa Valley Medical Center.