With back to school season here, many parents have been tackling me with questions about the safety of their children playing a fall sport.  I get my kicks from questions like this, so let’s see if I can touch down with some answers. 

More than 150,000 children under 15 seek care in an emergency facility each year due to playing football – and another 250,000 do the same thanks to soccer.  Strains and sprains are the most common injuries, especially to knees and shoulders. 

If you don’t want your child injured on the field, here are five tips that may score some points:

  1. Protective equipment is critical.  All players playing tackle football need a helmet; pads for shoulders, hips, tailbone, and knees; thigh guards, and a mouth guard.  Mouth guards and shin guards are a must for soccer and field hockey as well.  Guys need a protective cup for their genitals.  Safety lenses are also mandatory for those who wear glasses.  Appropriate footwear is also critical.
  2. Make sure your child warms up before they start playing any sport.  Loosening up via some jogging and stretching can prepare a child to get the muscles moving slowly but surely and reduce the risk of injury to those muscles.
  3. Your child needs to know the rules of the game they are playing.  Doing this will also result in fewer injuries. 
  4. If your child is playing organized football, soccer, field hockey or doing cross country running on a school or community team, it is a good idea to get a physical exam from your health care professional if your child has not had one yet this year, just to make sure your child does not have any special injury risks.
  5. Finally, make sure your child does not play when they are injured – even if they want to.  Playing when a child is injured, which can include a concussion, and before an injury to the body or brain has had a chance to heal, is a really bad idea that can lead to an even worse injury that may end their season.  Let your child’s health care professional help determine when they are ready to return to the game.

Hopefully tips like this will not allow you to fumble the next time you want to intercept any injuries and will help you to reach your goal of keeping your child safe when they play fall sports this year.  

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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