Preventing and Treating Pediatric Sports Injuries

June 26, 2023
pediatric injuries infographic

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Roughly 45 million U.S. children play an organized sport. Pediatric sports injuries, both acute and chronic, have risen due to children's participation in competitive sports at younger ages. This is partly because of higher training intensity, hectic competition schedules, and children specializing in a single sport.

Pediatric sports injuries are the second leading cause of emergency room visits, with more than 3.5 million children treated annually. With a third of all childhood injuries related to sports, it's crucial to develop safety strategies that promote safe play and offer timely care for young athletes. This can help prevent the severity and long-term effects of sports injuries. 

Types of Skeletal Muscle Injuries 

Acute injuries sustained from falls or hits are commonplace in pediatric sports. However, overuse or chronic injuries are rising and have become even more common, especially as children and adolescents focus on a single sport.  

Single-sport play can mean repeating the same motion over and over. This can cause repetitive or intense trauma to the same muscles. And, as young athletes are still developing physically, they often cannot withstand constant and repeated stress. 

Top Injuries by Sport

Soccer, basketball, football, dance, and gymnastics are the top five sports that lead to kids’ injuries. Common injuries caused by these types of sports include: 


  • Ankle, knee and calf sprains
  • Clavicle, foot and wrist fracture
  • Kneecap bursitis
  • Meniscus tears
  • Concussions


  • Ankle and muscle sprain
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Knee tendonitis
  • Finger injuries
  • Sever’s disease


  • ACL tears and MCL sprains
  • Meniscus tears
  • Concussions
  • Finger, ankle and wrist fractures
  • Muscle strains

Dance and Gymnastics

  • Ankle sprains
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Trigger toe
  • Ankle impingement
  • Snapping hip and hip impingement

Why Young Athletes are More Prone to Injuries

A child's bones have more collagen and cartilage than an adult's. As a result, they are weaker than their ligaments and tendons. This can result in fractures rather than soft tissue damage seen in adults. If properly managed, they can heal without further consequences.

The growth plate is the weakest part of an immature skeleton. Growth plate injuries often occur due to abnormal traumatic or chronic stress, many times from sports. These injuries account for 15% to 30% of all childhood fractures. These injuries can lead to partial impairment or growth arrest if not properly treated. 

With growth arrest occurring in 15% of growth plate injuries, identifying and managing these fractures should be a top priority. 

Physiological Factors That Influence Pediatric Sports Injuries

Children's developing anatomy and physiology may make them more prone to unique sports-related injuries. Adolescent injuries often manifest differently than adult injuries, with severe consequences that can alter growth and development.

Differences in anatomic and physiologic characteristics between boys and girls (i.e., skeletal structure, muscle mass, ligament laxity, hormone levels) can also impact injuries. Young female athletes, for example, are more prone to non-contact-type injuries to the lower body. During puberty, the hips and pelvis widen, creating a wider angle between the hips and knees. This can put more strain on the knee and lead to injuries such as ACL strains or tears more frequently than in boys.

While both sexes experience similar injuries during sports, recovery times and rehabilitation needs also differ between boys and girls, with girls often requiring more time. Caregivers must understand the unique physiology of growing male and female athletes and the associated injury risks to optimize recovery plans. 

Early Specialization in Sports Versus Diversification

Sports involving throwing or throwing-like movements involve complex biomechanics and stresses on the musculoskeletal system. Movements range from classic ball throwing to throwing-like actions such as a tennis serve or repetitive overhead motions such as swimming. Injuries can occur when improper biomechanics are applied or when there's excessive stress beyond the capacity of an individual's musculoskeletal system. Additionally, cumulative trauma from frequent throwing can also lead to injury.

Medial epicondyle apophysitis, or "little league elbow," is the most common overuse injury seen in youth baseball pitchers. This results from “repetitive stress of the growth plate on the inside of the elbow” since the growth plate in young players is weaker and has yet to fuse. These injuries are more commonly seen in young players who play year-round, subjecting their arms to higher pitch counts and more games than in a shorter playing season. 

Adolescents who play sports can benefit from stimulating their bodies, which helps them adapt and develop various motor skills. These skills also provide benefits that can carry over to other sports. According to the International Olympic Committee, “Children who participate in a variety of sports and specialize only after reaching the age of puberty… tend to be more consistent performers, have fewer injuries, and adhere to sports play longer than those who specialize early.” 

Tips to Prevent Sports Injuries

All sports activities have a risk of injury. The American Academy of Pediatrics has provided some vital tips to help parents and coaches promote a safe sports experience. 

  • Take time off: Take at least one day off per week and one month off per year from training allows recover time.
  • Wear the right gear: Proper-fitting protective equipment such as pads, helmets, mouthpieces, face guards, protective cups, and eyewear help protect critical areas.
  • Do not play through pain.
  • Strengthen muscles through regular conditioning exercises during practice.
  • Increase flexibility: Incorporate stretching into a daily fitness plan and after games and practices.

AliMed offers many pediatric products that promote safe play and recovery objectives.  

AliMed® FREEDOM® Pediatric Elbow Sleeves with double-sided neoprene construction provide warmth, comfort, and slim fitting compression for relief and prevention of lateral ligament sprains, strains, bursitis, tendonitis, arthritis, and soft-tissue injuries. 

AliMed® FREEDOM® Pediatric Wraparound Knee Braces provide the right size support for knee injuries, including ACL/PCL sprains, patellar pain, medial/lateral ligament instabilities, and patellar tendonitis. 

AliMed® Pediatric Silicone Heel Cups absorb shock to help relieve heel pain due to bursitis, Achilles tendonitis, fat pad atrophy, and plantar fasciitis.

The Joslin Ultimate Arm Sling is designed for comfort and support for shoulder injuries. 


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