School-Sports Safety
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School-Sports Safety

Injuries are on the rise. Here, what parents must know to protect their young athletes.

Are School Sports Dangerous?


Kelly Charles, a Dallas mother of three girls, never thought that her eldest daughter, Alexandra, now 17, could be seriously injured as a cheerleader. But then all those handsprings and all that tumbling started taking their toll. First Alexandra dislocated her right shoulder. When she returned to the squad, she dislocated it again. And again. And again. Eventually she required surgery, which permanently ended her cheerleading career. Today she's off to college with an eight-inch scar and three pins in her shoulder.

Welcome to the world of school-sports injuries, which are on the rise thanks to the growing numbers of girls and boys who participate. At last count, 38 million kids age 18 and younger participated in sports, many of which are school sponsored. And every year, 2.6 million youngsters 5 to 24 suffer a sports injury serious enough to miss school, practice, or games, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Protect Your Child

Being prepared -- and then playing it safe -- is the key to a healthy sports season. Follow these tips to keep your child off the bench:

  • Book an appointment with your family physician before the season begins. The doctor should examine your teenager's bones and joints, check her heart rate and pulse, and test her reflexes to pick up on any problems that may put her at risk of injury and ensure that she's physically fit enough for the sport she intends to play, says Keith Gorse, a clinical coordinator and instructor in the undergraduate athletic-training program at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. For example, if your daughter wants to try out for the gymnastics team, the doctor should check the range of motion, flexibility, and strength of her ankles and lower back. If your son is going out for track, your doctor should check his hamstring flexibility by having him do straight leg raises. Also ask the doctor to recommend a preseason stretching program.
  • Make sure your son or daughter always wears proper protective gear, such as a helmet and shoulder pads for football and shin guards for soccer. Mouth guards should be worn for any type of contact or collision sport, says David Marshall, MD, medical director of the Sports Medicine Program at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Eye protection is also important in sports such as lacrosse.
  • Don't let your teen play if he's in pain. While doing so might seem "heroic," it can make the injury worse and harder to treat, says Dr. Marshall. Pain, swelling, or limping is an indication that it's time for your teen to take a time-out and see the doctor.
  • Be sure the coach knows first aid and CPR and always warms up the team before practice and has them cool down and stretch afterward.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, September 2004.