It happens to most of us at some point. Your little one may not be able to tell you when something hurts or that it is more severe than you thought, or your mom instinct may have been a little delayed. I have questioned why my son seemed to be grumpier than usual, and only when my husband persuaded me to take him to the doctor did I find out that he had a double ear infection. No fever, no pulling at his ears…and I still felt horrible for not realizing when he was hurting! But we have also been on the flip side, taking our little one to the doctor and paying the co-pay only to be told that it was most likely something viral that needed to work itself out without any prescription medicines. It has taken me a few years and many conversations with my husband, a Licensed Athletic Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, to know how we can keep an eye out for common injuries and follow a few manageable steps to provide care at home when it is appropriate. As we head back to school, here are few things that you may want to keep in mind for your family…
With so many 100-degree days here in South Texas, many students and athletes succumb to heat-related illness and suffer from dehydration. Coaches do have protocols they are required to follow to help acclimatize their athletes to these conditions (like no football helmets and pads for the first four days of practice), but you still may want to try and spend some time outdoors ahead of school starting. Kids may experience cramps, excessive sweating, heat exhaustion, or in the worst case, heat stroke. Symptoms can range from confusion, cramping, headaches, fatigue, and pale skin. It is important to remember that you want your child to be well hydrated and have an adequate amount of salt in their system.
Trainer Tip: “You want your tank to be full before practice starts. Drinking water during breaks won’t allow it to be absorbed into your system fast enough [to combat heat-related illness].” Make sure your athlete replenishes more than he/she is sweating out by drinking water all throughout the day.
Soft Tissue Injuries
Even for little ones, soft tissue injuries can be regular occurrences. Remember that a sprain is an injury to a ligament, which connects bone to bone, and happens when a joint is forced beyond its natural limits. Picture an ankle bending at an awkward angle. However, according to my trainer/hubby, young athletes are still growing and their open growth plates also make them more susceptible to breaks than adults. He says he has learned to suspect a fracture rather than a sprain when symptoms of a sprain are seen over a bony prominence. If you see any usual bumps poking out with bruising or tenderness, it may be time to head in for an X-ray just to be sure.
Trainer Tip: “Use the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.” For a sprain, limit use of the injured area and first try to control swelling. If you use a bandage wrap, start at the bottom of the extremity and move upwards without cutting off circulation. You should ice for the first 24–48 hours and avoid heat, as it promotes blood flow. Keep the ice on for 20 minutes, then remove for one to two hours until the area is back to room temperature. It will also help to try to keep the area elevated above your heart level.
A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon, which connects muscle to bone. A strain happens when a muscle or tendon is either stretched beyond its limits or has generated more force than the fibers can withstand, like a pitcher overdoing it and damaging his/her shoulder.
In the case of a strain, use the same RICE method. Strains can take longer to heal, but the goal is for the muscle strength to eventually match the non-injured limb. Trainer Tip: “If your child participates in activities that require power or explosive energy, he/she may want to be even more diligent in taking time to start off easy and not push further if he/she experiences any pain.” It is important to tell your kid to let his/her body guide him/her in its limitations and understand that not letting a strain heal properly will most likely lead to re-injury.
If your child participates in activities with more physical contact, a concussion can be really worrisome. Public school coaches are all required to attend trainings about warning signs, so if you are concerned about any signs of dizziness, loss of consciousness, headaches, blurred vision, or sensitivity to light, let your coach or trainer know. There are very specific regulations (set by the state, not just your school) that must be followed. It is a good idea to err on the side of caution, so a doctor evaluation may be wise. Just know that if your child is diagnosed, your school district will have their own “Return to Play” protocol that must be followed. Concussions are a very hot topic across many sports and in the media, but the bottom line is that concussions are serious injuries with an increased for future occurrence if your student has one at a younger age. By taking proper care after it occurs, athletes can safely resume the activity they enjoy.
While I certainly hope that your school year goes by without incident, odds are that it may not. When in doubt, always ask a professional. And if you have any home remedies that have made your life easier after an injury, let me know in the comments!