Children are not the same as we (adults) are! Though we can often fall into the habit of treating them as if they are just small versions of grownups, they are not. This is especially true when it comes to sports and exercise injuries. Because they are still growing, children face injuries that are fundamentally different; it’s important to realize the differences.
Whether considering acute injuries, that is, from a specific event like a sprain or break, or chronic injuries that develop over time, knowing how a growing child is different can mean better understanding, and better prevention.
Because their bones are still growing, children face a different set of injury problems. The process of bone growth involves an area called the growth plate where bone is added to make it longer and bigger. When bone growth is complete, the growth plate is replaced by solid bone.
Growth plate injuries occur in three main ways. First is an avulsion fracture which occurs when a fragment tears away from the main mass of bone which can be the result of physical trauma. This occurs because tendons and ligaments are stronger than the growing bone: they will tear away under sufficient strain because the growth plate is the weakest link. Treatment of an avulsion fracture is usually rest and ice, but may mean a cast or crutches if the injury is serious. If you think your child’s injury involves tendons or ligaments, seek medical help.
A second injury found in growing children is the irritation of the growth plates arising from overuse. Demanding too much, too often results in inflammation and pain as the area is aggravated. In this case, a good strategy is to rest the injury. Icing and stretching can also help.
As bones grow, getting longer and heavier, the muscles attached to them must also get longer. The process, especially during a child’s growth spurts, can mean a muscle is pulled very tight, becoming strained. This third type of ‘growth’ injury can be minimized with appropriate stretching exercises before and after an activity. This will reduce the chances of injury, and reduce the pain involved.
When discussing sports and physical activity, we also need to include head injuries, specifically concussions. While kids might not be so very different in this case, the implications are very serious.
A concussion is a blow to the head that can affect the way the brain works. It is also the most common type of traumatic brain injury. For kids in sport, almost half of all concussions occur between the ages of 12 and 15. Some of the symptoms of concussion are headache, confusion, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, numbness and loss of balance. Head injuries like these are serious business so if your child, or anyone, is exhibiting symptoms such as these, get medical attention.
To learn how to recognize and respond to a concussion and manage a player's recovery there is a great 30 minute online course called, Concussion Awareness Training Toolkit for parents, players and coaches with printable resources, online videos and additional handouts for parents.
Sports and physical activity are rewarding for fitness, health and self-esteem, so encouraging your child to be active will benefit them in many ways. However, it is equally important to ensure their interest matches their activity both in type and level. The benefits are life-long and the memories golden.
Written by Dr. Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.