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Sports Safety

Take precautions to protect the face and head

While the most common injuries in childhood sports are scrapes, bruises, joint sprains, muscle strains, and bone injuries, some of the more serious injuries can involve the head and face. That's why it's so important to protect these potentially vulnerable areas.

“Injury to the head can be very serious, even life-threatening," says Jeffrey M. Mjaanes, MD, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at Rush.

“A concussion is a prime example of this. In sports, the seriousness of a head injury is often downplayed by calling it a 'dinger' or 'getting your bell rung.' But, any suspected concussion should be taken seriously and be evaluated by a health professional, such as an athletic trainer or physician, immediately."

A concussion is the violent shaking of the brain within the skull. "A concussion can happen in any sport. You might get hit hard in the head with a ball, run into another player or collide with the ground," Mjaanes says.

Anyone who's had a concussion should avoid any more blows to the head and definitely shouldn't play sports until the brain has had time to heal. The bottom line is no athlete should be returned to play who is still symptomatic from a concussion.

"Care needs to be taken to avoid a second concussion while the brain is repairing itself from the initial injury," says Mjaanes.

"The athlete has the potential to suffer severe damage with the second concussion if the brain hasn't fully recovered. This 'second impact syndrome' is usually universally fatal."

Watch closely for symptoms of a concussion, which may not appear right away.

Protecting the head

  • Wear a hard, well-fitting helmet for baseball and softball when batting.
    • "All batters should wear a single or double ear-flap helmet and all catchers should wear a catcher's helmet. Little league batters should consider a helmet with a polycarbonate face shield," says Mjaanes.
    • "Little league aged athletes should wear a well-fitting hard helmet for duration of the game, not just for batting," says Mjaanes.
  • Wear a well-fitted helmet at all times for football.
  • Use sense in "heading" the ball in soccer.
  • "Young kids should not head the ball they possess the neck strength and have learned the skills necessary to head the ball safely, usually around ages 8 to 10," says Mjaanes.

Protecting the eyes

  • Any athlete with less than 20/40 vision in either eye needs to take extra care and wear shatter-proof polycarbonate lenses for all games and practices.
  • If an athlete wears glasses, he or she needs to have some shatter-proof protective covering for the glasses.
    • "Baseball is the leading cause of sports-related eye injuries in children, and the highest incidence occurs in children 5 to 14 years of age. Any time there's injury to the eye where vision is affected, the eye should be evaluated by someone with medical expertise," says Mjaanes.

Protecting the teeth

  • A mouth guard should be used for contact sports such as football, rugby and lacrosse.

Other activities requiring protection

  • Helmets should be worn for roller skating, skateboarding, or when riding bikes or scooters.
    • Helmets should be properly fitted and snug.
    • "Parents should support wearing a helmet and start the training as young as possible, about 3 years old," Mjaanes says.
    • Adults should set a good example by wearing helmets themselves.

"My goal is for athletes to stay healthy and stay in their sports," says Mjaanes. "Following these safety tips can make them have a safe and healthy career."

Baseball and softball aren't considered contact sports, but they are associated with many injuries. A pediatric sports medicine specialist at Rush offers safety tips.

Many people forgo a helmet, saying it is uncomfortable, un-stylish or just plain unnecessary. But experts say there are no valid excuses for not strapping on this vital piece of protective gear.

When Jack, age 8, slammed his head into a rink wall and skated away seemingly unscathed, his parents, Ted and Valerie Devine, went on alert. They know that you don't need to be knocked out cold to have a concussion.