As parents, we understand the health benefits of physical activities for children, but at the same time, we want our kids to stay safe at all times—a guarantee that does not exist in competitive sports.
If your child plays a sport, some of the most common sports-related injuries to watch out for are rotator cuff injuries and ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injuries.
Especially if your young athlete plays a sport where they are using their legs with high impact, it’s important to know about ACL injuries, including how to recognize an ACL tear, what steps to take if your child tears their ACL, and most importantly, how your child can prevent ACL injuries.
Understanding ACL Injuries in Kids
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is one of the key ligaments in the knee, providing stability and support during activities that involve pivoting, cutting (also called “faking out”), and jumping.
It’s understandable for you to be concerned about your young athlete tearing an ACL. Your child is still growing, and ACL injuries can lead to long-term consequences in children. For context, the same strain that would normally tear a muscle or tendon in an adult is more likely to fracture your child’s knee bone.
ACL injuries are most common in sports like soccer, basketball, football, and skiing. Here, the athlete’s movement comes to a sudden stop, or their knees are exposed to sudden twists, among other impacts or excessive stress.
How To Recognize if Your Child Has an ACL Injury
If your child tears their ACL, recognizing the injury as soon as possible will give them the best chance for a full, speedy recovery.
The signs of an ACL injury may include:
- An Audible Pop: Your child’s knee might make a popping sound at the time of an ACL injury.
- Pain and Instability: If your child tears their ACL, they will feel immediate pain and will likely fall to the ground. Their injured knee will become unstable, making it difficult for them to hold their weight or walk.
- Immediate Swelling: Your child’s knee will swell up right after an ACL injury due to bleeding within the joint.
- Leg Straightening Struggles: If your child has an ACL injury, they may have difficulty fully extending or straightening their leg.
What to Do If Your Child Tears Their ACL
If you suspect that your child has suffered an ACL injury, take the following steps at once:
- Take the Weight Off: Have your child immediately stop any physical activity and avoid putting weight on their injured leg. We recommend carrying or supporting your child on the side with the injured leg to help them off the field. Alternatively, you can use a wheelchair.
- Ice the Injury: Wrap an ice pack with a cloth or towel and apply it to your child’s injured knee to reduce swelling and alleviate their pain.
- Compress and Elevate: Use an elastic compression bandage on your child’s knee to control the swelling. Elevate their leg to minimize fluid buildup in their knee.
- Seek Immediate Medical Attention: Most importantly, see a doctor for a torn ACL. They can confirm the diagnosis, assess the severity of the injury, and recommend an appropriate treatment plan, which may involve physical therapy or surgery.
How to Prevent ACL Injuries
You can encourage your young athlete to take steps to reduce the risk of a serious knee injury. Talk to your child about the following prevention tips:
- The Art of Proper Form: Ensure your child receives proper coaching and training in their chosen sport. A coach can correct techniques for jumping, landing, and pivoting to minimize stress on the ACL.
- Warm Up Right: Emphasize the importance of warming up before any physical activity. Ensure your child includes dynamic stretching exercises in their routine to prepare their knee and surrounding muscles.
- Safety First: If it applies, ensure your child wears protective gear, like knee braces or pads, which can provide much-needed support when they are out there giving it their all.
Tips for Teaching Sports Safety
It’s important that your child understands the risks associated with their chosen sport, but you can encourage them to stay alert and practice mindfully throughout their journey as an athlete.
Here are some ways you can encourage sports safety in a way that sticks with your child:
- Open Communication: Encourage your child to communicate any discomfort or pain they experience while playing sports. Make sure they understand that it’s okay to speak up if something doesn’t feel right.
- Empowering Positivity: Praise your child for practicing good safety habits and playing responsibly. Acknowledge and reward them for taking care of themself.
- Long-Term Perspective: Have a sit down with your child about the potential long-term consequences of sports-related injuries. Emphasize the importance of taking care of their body so that they can enjoy a lifetime of physical activity.
With the proper awareness, prevention methods, and actions when necessary, you can help your young athlete stay safe and thrive in their chosen sport.
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