Playing sports is beneficial to kids and teens in many ways—from getting regular physical activity to learning important skills. Unfortunately, sometimes kids get hurt during sports, but some simple precautions can help prevent most common injuries among young athletes.

Injuries are a common occurrence. More than 2.5 million kids go to the emergency room each year for injuries during organized sports, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Some of the ways we can avoid sports injuries are making sure the kids have an adequate warm up period,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw. “After they’ve done their sports participation, having a cool down period will really help them prevent ongoing injury.”

Protective gear is important

In addition to properly warming up and cooling down, young athletes should wear the appropriate protective gear and equipment for their sport, such as mouth guards and helmets. Parents and coaches should be encouraging young athletes to make sure they are well-protected.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has suggestions for additional ways to avoid sports injuries:

  • Take breaks
  • Use proper technique
  • Play safe and within the rules of the game
  • Stop an activity if it hurts

Kids should also stay hydrated before, during and after games or practices, get plenty of sleep and follow a healthy diet. It’s also a good idea for athletes to mix up their athletic activities, to prevent overuse injuries.

“Very intense kids want to practice their one sport over and over again throughout the entire year,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “That is not something we recommend because their bodies are more sensitive since they’re still not fully mature, so doing the same sport year-round can really set a kid up for overuse injuries.”

Most common injuries

The most frequent sports injuries among U.S. children and teens include:

  • sprains (injuries to ligaments)
  • strains (injuries to muscles)
  • growth plate irritation (apophysitis)
  • stress fractures (injury to bones) caused when an abnormal stress is placed on tendons, joints, bones and muscle

Report injuries immediately

Be sure that your young athlete understands why it’s important to report injuries to coaches and parents as soon as they happen.

Dr. Bradshaw warns that if they don’t, it could make a bad situation worse. “Kids don’t always want to let us know that they’re injured because they don’t want to miss any playing time, which is totally understandable.” However, it’s much better to get over a minor injury rather than try to cover it up and end up missing more playing time or risk more injury, Dr. Bradshaw says.

Benefits of a sports physical

It’s always a good idea to get a pre-season physical before your child plays sports, and for many schools and organizations it’s required.

A physical is a great way for your child’s doctor to determine if they are fit to play and can assess any areas of concern.