Dr. Gregory Caronis shared in the Daily Herald Newspaper recently that although it may not seem like it today, warmer days of spring are ahead. And with warm thoughts on our minds, many adults look back fondly on childhood days filled with active games, playgrounds and the beginning of the spring sport season. While we often remember playing outdoors with friends until waning daylight signals that it’s time to go home, carefree days can also be marred with injuries that can leave a lasting impact on a child’s health and development.
Children keep us busy in my orthopedic office. Many of the patients I see are children who tend to be much more active than adults and more prone to injury.
In addition, as one of the orthopedic trauma surgeons at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill., I am frequently on call when a child is injured. A good number of children we see suffer a fracture after falls from playground equipment or during play with friends. While the broken bone temporarily compromises a child’s lifestyle, they usually heal uneventfully with the proper treatment and care.
Still, certain basic steps can keep children safe. I would say that the greatest number of orthopedic injuries occur on playground equipment or with bike riding. Many of the injuries are bruises, but fractured arms and wrists are common, too.
Helmets – The importance of helmet utilization cannot be overemphasized — broken bones pale in comparison to the irreversible impact of a head injury. The helmet requirement should extend to any type of rolling sport. Scooters, skates and skateboards can all have the potential to cause a sudden fall with a significant amount of impact.
Playgrounds – The playground is fun but can be a dangerous place for children. Spring is the time we start seeing an increase in the number of playground injuries from a fall with an outstretched arm. Our body instinctively tries to break the fall, and we extend a hand forward. The impact frequently results in a fractured wrist. Close supervision of young children is important, as they may not have the physical skills required to safely navigate the equipment.
Trampolines – One of the greatest contributors to pediatric injuries that I’ve seen in recent years has been backyard trampolines. While trampolines are undoubtedly fun, the safety nets can give a false sense of security. A good portion of trampoline-related fractures that I see come from kids colliding into one another when they’re bouncing, not from falling off the trampoline.
Sports – It’s not just the playground that’s bringing pediatric patients into the office. In recent years, we’ve begun to see a significant increase in overuse injuries in children — in many cases, associated with sports-related activity. With the growing popularity of organized youth athletics, the pressure to compete has led to children “specializing” in one sport at an early age. While we changed sports with the seasons in past generations, it is not uncommon for children to play just one sport year-round.
He often explains to parents that pediatric patients are not “small adults.” Because young athletes are still growing, they are at a greater risk for injury than adults. Overuse injuries occur gradually when an athletic activity is repeated often and the same muscle groups or bones are stressed and unable to have time for recovery. The doctor frequently sees young athletes for foot and heel pain, anterior knee pain and elbow and shoulder pain with diagnoses that ultimately lead to the culprit being an overuse syndrome.
The most common overuse injuries involve the knee and foot. Muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones and growth plates can be affected. In children, these structures are still growing and developing. Bones grow first, pulling at tight muscles and tendons. This makes younger athletes more prone to muscle, tendon and growth plate injuries. Growth plates are the areas of developing cartilage that allow pediatric bones to grow and lengthen. The areas of cartilage tend to be weaker than the associated ligaments and tendons. Repetitive stress can lead to fractures of the growth plate.
Many overuse injuries can be prevented by not overdoing a single sport and giving growing bodies adequate rest between games and seasons. Cross training is key to avoiding excessive strain on one set of muscles or bones and to developing other skills and preventing injury.
Despite a certain amount of orthopedic risk, there is nothing like active outdoor play and team sports — even in the cold, winter months. With a little prevention, parents can help make play and sports a fun, injury-free experience for their children.