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Sports safety starts with the right gear to prevent injury

Shin guards, kneepads, helmets and masks have one big thing in common: it all improves safety and can prevent a sports injury.

Two football players wearing sports safety gear.
Required and recommended safety gear varies by activity.

If you’re wondering whether kids need to wear sports safety gear when playing sports, consider the serious injuries that could happen if they don’t.

Approximately three million children are seen in emergency rooms annually for sports-related injuries, according to Nationwide Children’s. Another five million are seen by their primary care provider or a sports medicine clinic for injuries.

Many sports injuries are preventable with proper sports safety equipment.

Sports safety gear for your child

Required and recommended safety gear varies by activity.

All players should wear the appropriate and properly fit protective equipment including pads (neck, shoulder, elbow, chest, knee and shin), helmets, face guards, cups and eyewear. Mouthguards are required in some sports, other sports highly suggest them, as does the American Dental Association. Dental injuries are common and do occur in sports, even when helmets are required and worn.

READ MORE: Mouth guards in sports: Preventing chipped teeth or worse

Some sports specifically require safety equipment for competition. Visit the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association website or your state’s school sports organization page for specific rules and recommended gear. It’s encouraged your child practices in the same gear they compete in.

“Sport-specific equipment requirements in WIAA-sponsored high school sports are thoroughly investigated and have scientific evidence that such equipment can protect from or minimize injuries,” said Dr. Laurel Rudolph-Kniech, sports medicine provider with Marshfield Clinic Health System. “Safety equipment is not simply a suggestion, but mandatory.”

If safety gear is recommended but not required, it’s still a good idea to wear it. The same advice applies to solo activities like rollerblading and skateboarding.

Avoid serious sports injuries

Safety gear won’t prevent all bumps and scrapes, but it can help your child avoid serious injuries like lacerations, bone bruises and even death.

“Serious injuries can sideline kids from sports for the rest of the season or permanently,” said Dr. Rudoph-Kniech.

Get all protective equipment properly-fitted before the sports season

“For example, it’s important that football helmets are fitted by a medical provider, such as a licensed athletic trainer or an experienced coach. Helmets also need to be checked frequently to ensure proper function and size, especially with varying weather conditions. Youth hockey helmets, which are often carried in hockey bags, need to be checked or replaced ideally every season,” Dr. Rudolph-Kniech said.

To help protect against sports injuries, the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages:

  • Strengthening muscles through conditioning exercises.
  • Increasing flexibility by stretching and doing stretching exercises.
  • Using the proper technique while playing.
  • Taking breaks during practice and games.
  • Stopping if there is pain.

It’s also encouraged your child eats a well-balanced diet, gets adequate rest and stays hydrated.

Seek medical attention if your child experiences any of these symptoms after a sports injury:

  • Uncontrolled or significant bleeding
  • Significant swelling or discoloration
  • Limited range of motion
  • Injury that persists longer than a few days

“If your child has an injury, we can care for it and get them back in the game as quickly and safely as possible,” said Dr. Rudolph-Kniech.

READ MORE: Signs of concussion

Schedule your child’s annual sports physical

Before the sport season starts, it is also incredibly important for your child to have a pre-participation physical examination, or sports physical.

The screening will identify underlying areas of concern that may become a risk during the sports season. This includes past injuries, fractures or sprains that might affect your child’s physical ability. You’ll also talk about your family history that may predispose your child to a risk for cardiac issues during strenuous activities.

READ MORE: 4 things to know about a sports physical

Spread the word about injury prevention

Kids may resist wearing safety gear for practice and recreation if it’s uncomfortable or their friends aren’t wearing it.

Parents, coaches and athletic trainers should talk to kids about how the equipment will protect them and risks of not using it. Encourage them to wear safety gear so it becomes more acceptable among their friends and teammates.

“It might not be comfortable, but that’s a small price to pay for staying active,” said Dr. Rudolph-Kniech.

Schedule an appointment with a Marshfield Clinic Health System primary care provider.

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