Many kids love sports, bikes, and jungle gyms. Unfortunately, these are the very activities and places where injuries occur. It’s important to know how to recognize an injury and when to take your child to see a doctor. In most instances, the sooner you get the injury treated, the sooner your child can heal and get back to having fun.
Fractures, Sprains, Strains
In the case of an injury of any kind—whether you suspect a broken bone, a strain, or sprain—it is important to have the situation assessed by a doctor. If the injury is to the back or neck, be sure to try to keep your child from moving as much as possible while you call the doctor. If your pediatrician cannot be reached and there is any concern of a broken bone (for example, your child cannot move the injured part of the body or there is severe bleeding), then call 911 or go to your local ER.
A bone break is called a fracture and is very painful. Often the area around the break will become extremely inflamed and swollen, and movement is limited due to the pain and swelling. It is important to call your doctor if you think a fracture has occurred. When a fracture is suspected, an X-ray is taken and your child may be referred to an orthopedist to determine the type of fracture and treatment needed. Most often, use is restricted and weight-bearing is prohibited until the break begins to heal.
Sometimes a suspected bone fracture can turn out to be a strain or sprain. A strain occurs when muscles are overstretched. A sprain is when a ligament, which is the tissue that connects bones, is overstretched or even torn. Both injuries can cause pain and swelling. Kids who overuse their muscles, or don’t warm up enough before a sport, may get muscle strains more easily. Sprains most often occur in ankles and wrists. If you think your child has a strain or sprain, it is still very important to contact your doctor. When a fracture has been ruled out, the treatment for a strain or sprain can most often be undertaken at home.
The treatment which most parents know very well after their first child’s injury is the mnemonic: RICE. It is a treatment that can be used after speaking with your doctor and a fracture or more severe injury has been ruled out.
- “R” is for REST. This may be hard for active kids, but it’s important that your child rests while injured.
- “I” is for ICE. Keep ice on the injured area on and off for the first 1-2 days. This helps with the swelling. Apply the ice on and off in 15 minute intervals. You can use a paper towel or any towel over the ice instead of directly putting the ice on your child’s skin.
- “C” is for Compression. This may be a bandage or a splint that the doctor gives you for the injury after a fracture has been ruled out. Compression helps with the swelling but be sure to use the specific instructions from your doctor. You never want to have the compression so tight that it restricts blood flow.
- “E” is for Elevation. Keep the injured part of the body elevated. This also helps to reduce swelling.
If necessary, a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may be recommended for pain.
Head injuries occur most often in contact sports, but can happen with any activity. A concussion is any injury to the brain that disrupts normal brain function on a temporary or permanent basis. Some signs and symptoms of a concussion may include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and confusion.
If your child has a head injury or concussion no matter how mild, call your doctor right away. A doctor can determine the diagnosis and run tests as needed. Rest from both physical and mental activity is an important treatment for a concussion. Your doctor will work with you on the best treatment plan and advise you as to when activity can be resumed.
Irrespective of the injury, it is important for your child to rest and not go back to sports or activity until your doctor says it is ok to do so. Coaches may not allow children who experience a head injury or concussion to return to the sport without a doctor's approval. Not following the doctor’s recommendation can make the injury worse, delay healing or cause a secondary injury to occur. Your doctor may advise that your child gradually pick up the activity or sport that caused the injury. Timing varies greatly: for instance, a strain can mean a few days off, whereas a more serious injury can take up to several weeks. The good news is that in general, most kids are amazing healers and their bodies recover pretty quickly.
Playing it Safe
It’s important to keep children fit and safe while they participate in physical activities. Make sure they wear appropriate protective gear for each activity. For example, helmets should be worn for bicycling, skiing, and contact sports.
Also, emphasize the importance of following safety rules, whether communicated by you, their teacher or coach. Lastly, keep an eye on your kid. Even when they are simply playing at the playground, watch your child. If you have any concern of an injury, call your doctor.
Alison Mitzner, MD is Senior Director, Medical Oversight Lead, Safety Evaluation and Reporting Worldwide Safety & Regulatory Operations at Pfizer
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