Four tips to help both parents and their teens deal with sports injuries.
It was a very busy day in the urgent center where I was working several years ago. A teenager was brought in hobbling on one foot, with his dad anxiously looking on. It became apparent that the patient needed an Xray to rule out a fracture. Dad snapped, “How long is that going to take?” I took his anger as anxiety and explained the time line to him. Then he said, I can’t wait for this. I’m the coach of the team and I had to leave and come here and we’ve been here so long. I have to get back.” My jaw dropped open. I exclaimed, “But this is your son, don’t you care that he’s injured?” He looked at me sheepishly and said, “I’m sorry. I have to go.” At which point he signed his son out against medical advice.
I have since learned that when it comes to teens and sports, one can’t predict how a parent will react when their teen is injured and unable to play. Parents take teen participation in sports very seriously, sometimes because of the possibility of earning a college scholarship and also because of the prestige of having a student athlete. Parents get upset when their teens are excused from sports because of a genuine injury.
Below are a few tips to help both parents and their teens deal with the injuries that will inadvertently happen.
1. Prevention is key
As with most things in life, prevention is really the key. Prevention in sports means ensuring that your teen is in the best physical, mental and emotional shape to participate in sports. It is extremely important to have your pre-participation sports physical exam done. Players sometimes believe that they have to be big to be effective in their sport. Working hard and developing muscle and core strength is excellent. Eating a lot and gaining weight is not optimal. If you are not well conditioned, your body has more work to do carrying around the excess weight. I’ve seen players out of breath when they ran from one end of the court to another because they are not fit. Parents and teens must learn the difference between a well-trained and conditioned teen player, versus one who is just big but not in great physical shape. Other important steps to take are to warm up before starting any strenuous exercise, and taking breaks and keeping well hydrated. Teens should eat nutritious meals including fruits, vegetables and protein and should not overdo the sports drinks. Some of the high energy drinks come with too much caffeine and sugar and teens should be discouraged from consuming these.
2. Wear Protective Equipment
This point cannot be emphasized enough. Wearing a helmet is so simple to do, and yet so easy not to do. Unfortunately, the results of not doing so can be disastrous. There are so many life altering but preventable head injuries because both teens and adults fail to wear their helmets. Some teens think they don’t look cool or manly enough but this simple device could literally save your life. There is protective equipment for almost every sport and yet teens don’t take advantage of them. I agree that some equipment tends to be expensive but to me it’s worth it if it means my teen is well protected and safe whilst playing the sport he enjoys. It also means that your teen will be healthy enough to continue to play instead of having to take time off because of a preventable injury.
3. Dealing with pre-existing Medical Conditions
Doctors have had some parents come to them requesting an excuse for their teens not to participate in sports. We are given excuses from my child has asthma and can’t do sports – to my child gets tired and has knee pain when he runs so I don’t want him to participate in sports. I always tell parents that when they watch the Olympic Games they will see a lot of athletes use their inhalers before participating in sports. Asthma is not a contraindication to sports. Parents and teens should get together with their providers and find the optimal way to control diseases like asthma and high blood pressure so that their teens can live as normal a life as possible. Obesity is not a contraindication either. I often tell parents that their teens must participate in sports even when they are obese. They need to gradually build up their strength and skill. The beauty of it is, a lot of teens will lose the weight whilst having fun, and gain self-confidence as well.
4. Sports injuries
I met this very bright and engaging young man who was injured two or three times in the same basketball game before he decided to sit out, and allow his parents to bring him in to be seen. All he kept saying was, “I’m the best one on my team and I let them down.” What he didn’t realize was that he had sprained his ankle and aggravated it because he continued to play with the injury. This causes more severe injury, and a longer recovery time. For simple sprains, and bumps and bruises, encourage your teens to rest, ice the injured area, elevate the limb and use Ace wraps or supports when necessary. Teens with lacerations must be evaluated to find out whether these are minor lacerations or more serious lacerations requiring sutures. Certainly any teen who has a head injury during a game must be evaluated to see if he’s suffered a concussion. If there is any loss of consciousness he must be seen by trained medical personnel to determine the extent of his injury and he must follow the “return to play guidelines” following a head injury, from the CDC. http://www.cdc.gov/headsup/basics/return_to_sports.html
As your teen participates in sports, pay attention and make sure that your teen is in good physical shape. Encourage them to practice effectively to become well-conditioned and great at what they do. Insist that they wear their protective equipment. Discuss any medical condition that your teen may have and get it treated appropriately. Even as your health personnel advises you on your teen’s injuries and how to manage them, trust them and realize that they want what is in the best interest of your teen as well.