Injury Recovery for Sports Kids

Help your child heal, in mind and body, and get back in the game

kids sports injury recovery - child arm with a cast
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Injury recovery can be a tricky process, even for resilient, active, sporty kids. It's not as simple as "Your cast is off. You can play again!" If your child suffers a sports injury, she'll need time to recuperate both physically and psychologically. Here are some of the ups and downs she might experience, and how to handle them.

After a Sports Injury: Physical Recovery

Whether they've suffered a concussion, a broken bone, or a sprain or a strain, kids will need medical treatment and physical rest (as well as cognitive rest, for head injuries).

Follow your doctor's advice. Most family practitioners can treat sports injuries, but can also refer your child to a sports medicine specialist if necessary.

If your child has access to an athletic trainer (say, through school or even a medical clinic), that's ideal. A trainer can help monitor your child's recovery and safe return to sports. Your doctor may also refer your child for physical therapy as part of a treatment plan. Although it can be frustrating for your child to miss school for therapy appointments, a PT's guidance helps your athlete recover fully and get back to playing the sport he loves. A physical therapist or trainer can also help your child exercise safely during the recovery process so he can maintain as much of his fitness level as possible. Once he does return to play, he should be careful not to overtrain or specialize in one sport too early.

After a Sports Injury: Psychological Recovery

Even after they are physically healed, kids might still be feeling the effects of their injuries.

Especially f they return to play too quickly, they might be fearful, anxious, or depressed. They might not perform as well as they used to. They might even reinjure themselves—in the same way or in a different way.

To help your child recover emotionally, make sure she understands how her injury happened, what the treatment process is, and how it could be prevented in the future.

All of this can make the injury, and the idea of playing sports again, seem less scary. A positive attitude is very important, so help your child look on the bright side. She can still go to practices and games, cheer for her teammates, continue learning along with her team, and help the coach (for example, by recording video for the team to watch together). Participation like this will help her feel less isolated during her recovery.

What's most important, doctors say, is confidence. If kids feel confident and motivated to play, they will often be able to return to play more quickly and without losing a lot of skill and progress.

After a Sports Injury: Returning to School

Most sports injuries don't cause lengthy school absences. Kids may miss school for treatments (like casting for a fracture) and for physical therapy. They may need accommodations, such as being able to use an elevator if their mobility is limited, or help taking notes if they have trouble writing. They also may have to miss gym class. Make a plan with your child's doctor and the school nurse, principal, or teachers, as needed.

The big exception is concussions. Sometimes kids need to miss several days of school (or more) to fully rest their brains after an injury.

Sometimes they need to ease back in to school gradually, and to avoid noisy and/or brightly lit spaces. Follow your doctor's advice; most will explain to the school in writing what is needed. (As of 2016, a few U.S. states have "return to learn" laws in place that spell out what schools need to do; these are comparable to "return to play" laws that have been passed in every state.)

After a Sports Injury: Is It Time to Quit?

Occasionally, an injury means a child can no longer participate in her chosen sport. You'll need advice from her doctor to know for sure, but here are some ways to think about the risks.

Yes, there is always a chance that she could be injured again; but inactivity is dangerous too. With some help from the pros (a physician, physical therapist, or athletic trainer), your child can find a sport that works for her, and a strategy to help prevent future injuries.

Sources:

Ardern CL, Taylor NF, Feller JA, Webster KE. A systematic review of the psychological factors associated with returning to sport following injuryBr J Sports Med. 2013;47(17):1120-6.

Glazer DD. Development and Preliminary Validation of the Injury-Psychological Readiness to Return to Sport (I-PRRS) ScaleJ Athl Train. 2009;44(2):185–189.

Thompson LL, Lyons VH, McCart M, Herring SA, Rivara FP, Vavilala MS. Variations in State Laws Governing School Reintegration Following Concussion. Pediatrics. 2016;138(6).

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