Nobody wants to go to his or her senior prom in a cast or pose for picture day with a missing front tooth.
High school sports are no joke. They can be just as competitive as the college-level, and it's important to keep your kids as safe as possible when they play and train.
Here are six helpful tips from sports experts to keep your athlete out of the emergency room and injury-free on the field.
1. Always wear a helmet
Your high schooler may love the excitement of playing hard, but nobody should knock their noggins without the proper helmet protection.
"Wear the appropriate equipment for your sport and wear it properly. Always close a chin strap if your sport requires a helmet; many concussions occur during practice," according to the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey.
Even though you have a helmet, it doesn't mean your high schoolers should hit as hard as they can. Make sure your teenagers protect their heads by staying conscious of how hard they're hitting and keeping their head out of harm's way as much as possible.
2. Protect your mouth
No teenager (or a proud parent) wants his or her senior prom picture to feature a toothless grin. Unfortunately, many sports injuries involve broken, chipped or lost teeth.
Today, dentists and oral surgeons can replace teeth, but mouth injuries can cause problems for years.
Some of the sports that definitely require a mouth guard "are football, hockey, basketball, baseball, gymnastics and volleyball," according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
In any sport that carries a risk of mouth injuries, help your athletes keep track of and always wear mouth guards, so they can smile as much as they want in those awkward high school photos.
3. Remember to rest
If your high schooler is dedicated to a sport and has high energy, it can be tempting to play and train hard every day.
Telling your teenager to slow down will inevitably lead to the "But mom..." line, but all the research shows that down time will only improve Junior's game.
"Recovery from exercise training is an integral component of the overall training program and is essential for optimal performance and improvement," according to sports medicine researchers Dr. Jonathan N. Mike and Dr. Len Kravitz at the University of New Mexico.
When muscles have time to rest and regenerate, long-term performance increases.
Rest between periods of intense activity has also been proven to prevent common injuries, including common sprains and tears.
4. Your ankles and knees only bend certain ways
Many sports require movements that put knees and ankles in harm's way. From jumping the wrong way to shoot a basket to landing crooked when catching a football, every sport can be the backdrop for these injuries.
This means that high schoolers should stretch their legs before games and take a look at these exercises to strengthen the protective tendons and ligaments around their joints.
5. Stretching is important
Lack of flexibility often came back to bite you in the butt, shoulder or groin.
Certain athletes concentrate on gaining muscle and don't balance it out with flexibility training.
Flexibility can prevent injuries by lengthening muscles and creating greater ranges of motion. Also, warm-up stretches have been shown by scientists to help athletes improve their games.
"A warm-up and stretching protocol should be implemented prior to physical activity. Ideally, this warm-up and muscular routine should allow the stretching protocol to occur within the 15 minutes immediately prior to the activity," according to sports researchers writing for Sports Medicine.
6. Talk to the experts when something goes wrong
"When a sports injury occurs, it is important to quickly seek proper treatment. To ensure the best possible recovery, athletes, coaches and parents must follow safe guidelines for returning to the game," according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
If your child gets a sports-related injury, consult specialists at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center's dedicated Sports Medicine Services. The Bumps N' Bruises Clinic (for the Fall season) is open on Friday evenings from 10 pm to midnight at Jordan Commons, decreases wait times for Friday-night injury treatments, and provides free injury assessments.
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