Summer Safety for Active Kids

Simple precautions can lower the risk of strains, sprains and breaks.

As summer rolls around, kids and teens hit the parks, sidewalks and backyards to enjoy the warm weather and longer days. Along with the health benefits of being active outside, however, comes a greater risk for injury.

“When the weather is nice and kids are out playing sports, going to summer camp, or just being active around the neighborhood, we see injuries like fractures and ligament tears go up significantly,” says O. Folorunsho Edobor-Osula, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. Here’s her advice on how to help your child stay safe while being active.

Around the neighborhood

The culprit: Trampolines. Backyard trampolines are a leading cause of pediatric orthopedic injuries like sprains and fractures. “We see so many trampoline injuries during the summer,” says Dr. Osula. “Kids will often roughhouse or try to catapult each other, and they fall off.”

Precautions: “Supervise kids when they jump, make sure there’s only one person jumping at a time, and keep the trampoline surrounded by safety netting to make falls less likely,” advises Dr. Osula.

The culprit: Bicycles. A national study published in 2015 found that, in the preceding decade, an average of 500 children a day were treated in U.S. emergency departments for bicycle-related injuries. Cuts, bruises, scrapes and limb fractures were most commonly seen, but 11 percent of the total injuries were traumatic brain injuries.

Precautions: Be sure your child has a bike helmet that fit well, and wear one yourself to set an example. Check to see that your child’s bike tires are inflated properly and that brakes work. Children younger than 10 years old don’t have mature enough judgment to ride in the street and should ride on the sidewalk, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

If your child does ride her bike in the street, make sure she knows the rules of the road. “It’s really important to teach your kids about road safety,” says Dr. Osula. “This includes instilling habits like paying close attention when they ’re on or near the street, and looking both ways and making eye contact with drivers when they cross a road.”

At the playground

The culprits: Swings, monkey bars and climbing equipment. Each year, Emergency Departments treat more than 200,000 children ages four and under for playground-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Precautions: Check that your local playground is well-maintained and has soft material on the ground, such as wood chips, sand or mulch. “We also recommend parents supervise young children on slides by waiting at the bottom to catch them, not by going down with them,” says Dr. Osula. “And watch out for toddlers and smaller kids playing on equipment made for older kids.”

On the court or field

The culprit: Quick changes in direction. A common summer sports injury among teens is a tear in the knee’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). “We see this a lot in pivoting sports like basketball and soccer,” says Dr. Osula. “And it’s actually more common in young women because of skeletal and anatomical differences from young men.”

Precautions: The best way to avoid these injuries is to warm up and stretch before games, practice good form when jumping or pivoting, and work out regularly to build leg and core strength.

How serious is the injury?
Parents should be proactive about identifying the signs of an injury, even if their child says it’s not a big deal, says O. Folorunsho Edobor- Osula, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.

“The telltale signs of most sports injuries are swelling, an inability to bear weight, reduced range of motion, and pain that seems out of proportion to the situation,” says Dr. Osula. “If the injury looks like a fracture, with an excessive amount of pain and swelling, go straight to the Emergency Department. Otherwise your first line of treatment should normally be your primary care doctor, who can tell you if your child just needs to limit activity, or if he needs X-rays and possibly a referral to an orthopedic specialist.”

For fractures, treatment generally requires a splint or a cast that will stay on for four to six weeks until the bone heals, followed by physical therapy to rebuild muscle strength and flexibility. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears often require surgery to reconstruct the ligament, followed by intensive rehabilitation with physical therapy. Full recovery can take six to nine months.

Find a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, call 888.724.7123.