Play it Safe: Learn How to Diagnose Common Injuries

play it safeYouth sports don’t feature the same dangerous combination of size, speed, power and aggression that defines professional sports, but injuries still remain a natural part of the game.

Even though minor injuries are often unavoidable, at Liberty Mutual Insurance Play Positive™ we believe it is a smart policy to take measures to help prevent serious and costly injuries and to limit, identify and treat injuries when they do happen.

Learn to Diagnose Common Injuries

While the types of injuries differ by sport, there are several injuries which are fairly common across all sports:

  • Soreness and strains are common as kids challenge themselves in sports to learn, grow and do more.  Most often soreness and strains need the RICE protocol- Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
  • Sprains & stress fractures.  Sprains happen when ligaments stretch too far or tear.  Sprains impact your child’s stability and severe strains can cause instability in joints and sometimes the inability to move a limb (arm, leg, foot, etc.) They usually happen when a joint gets pushed out of the normal range of motion – think twisting your ankle.
  • Broken bones.  Most broken bones happen around wrists, arms and elbows as kids brace themselves during a fall.  Classic signs of a broken bone are pain, swelling, big bumps, audible snaps or a grinding noise, or, in severe cases, bones extruding from the skin.
  • Head & Neck injuries.  Blows to the head can cause concussions that can result in short-term impairment as well as long-term neurological and physical issues.  Any indication of a head injury should be taken seriously and you should consult medical professionals immediately.

The Most Common Injury?  Overuse Injuries

The most common injury among youth athletes is overuse injuries.  They happen when the same muscle or joint is used over and over and suffers what’s called ‘repetitive trauma.’  And it happens easily – and oftentimes unintentionally.  Sometimes the injuries occur as a result of training too much or too hard; other times the injuries happen due to technique errors.   If your child takes on too much in an effort to ‘be the best’, goes to fast, plays for too long, uses poor form, or simply does one thing too much (think pitching too much, too many wall-ball drills, or too many free throws), overuse injuries can really sideline even the best players.

Best Ways to Prevent Injury

While you can’t completely prevent injuries (accidents happen), there are a few steps you can take to help reduce the likelihood of injury:

  • Get a pre-season physical.  Visit your family doctor before the sports season starts and ensure your child has a thorough physical and is cleared to play.
  • Be fit. You know from your own experience that you can’t just decide to run a marathon – you have to train up to it.  Kids are similar – you can’t expect to run around the field for 60 minutes if you haven’t been running at all.  It takes time to build up to sports and persistency to maintain good overall fitness.
  • Get equipped. Make sure you have proper fitting equipment – everything from shoes to mouth guards, pads and protectors – all designed specifically for the sport your child is playing.  If you are re-using equipment from last year or using hand-me-downs, make sure you do a thorough inspection to make sure there are no cracks or missing elements that might compromise the effectiveness of the equipment.
  • Warm Up and Cool Down.  Stretch before and after every practice and game.  Warming up should include cardio warm up (run a bit) and muscular warm up (stretching, throwing, kicking, shooting, etc.)
  • Pace Yourself.   While we all want to ‘be the best’ right away, it’s important that we encourage our kids to pace themselves.  Practice in moderation.  Warm up and cool down.  Take days off in-between to rest and recover.  Take on only one new skill a week.  And only gradually increase activity level (that includes signing up for too many teams all at once.)
  • Play By The Rules.  The rules of the game are there not only for the sake of fair play, but also to protect the safety of the players.  Reinforce with your child that illegal play risks injuring themselves and other players.
  • Hydrate.  Encourage your child to hydrate before, during and after practices and games.  Don’t wait until you are thirsty – it’s often too late to hydrate once you feel thirsty and dehydration can lead to injury.
  • Mix It Up.  Play multiple sports.  Mix up your routine.  Ride your bike or shoot hoops with friends instead of always practicing your sport in your free time.  Cross training applies to kids as well as adults.  Changing it up not only helps kids stay positive and motivated, it allows some muscles to be strengthened while others rest.
  • Stop playing if injured.  It’s tempting to ‘play through the pain’, especially if your child thinks that not playing might disappoint you, the coach or their teammates.  But help set the record straight at the start of the season by letting your child know that playing while hurt is dangerous and can lead to more serious injuries and, in the worst cases, the end of a playing career altogether.

For additional helpful and informative Sports Safety articles, we encourage you to visit our articles on We also have pointers for Parents and Coaches to help make sure everyone is properly prepared.

The content above was referenced from the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) program called STOP Sports Injuries which they launched in 2007.   Today their website has the most comprehensive resources for parents, coaches and athletes on how to prevent injuries and play it safe.  Visit their website at to download Tip sheets for most major sports.

At Liberty Mutual Insurance, we constantly look for ways to celebrate the countless acts of sportsmanship and integrity shown by people every day. We created Play Positive™, powered byPositive Coaching Alliance, as part of this belief to help ensure that our kids experience the best that sports have to offer in environments that promote and display good sportsmanship. We believe kids can learn valuable life lessons when coaches and parents come together to support winning on and off the ice.

In an effort to benefit millions of youth athletes, parents and coaches, this article is among a series created exclusively for partners in the Liberty Mutual Insurance Play Positive™ program powered by Positive Coaching Alliance.

©2014 Liberty Mutual Insurance and Positive Coaching Alliance. All rights reserved. This material may not be distributed without express written permission. Any reproduction in whole or part by and individuals or organizations will be held liable for copyright infringement to the full extent of the law.

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