As the days get longer and warmer, children look forward to spending more time outdoors, staying active and making memories. But before you hit the playground or the pool, you might want to check out this guide to summer injury prevention for kids.
Last year summer hospital visits for kids increased 14% from the previous year, with more than one million children going to emergency rooms in July and August alone. Here are the most common summer injuries in kids and teens along with practical steps you can take to keep the kids in your life safe and healthy this season.
Drowning is an ever-present danger with any body of water. It is the single leading cause of death in children ages 1-4. The National Drowning Prevention Alliance recommended 5 layers of protection to prevent drowning injuries and fatalities:
Aside from the risk of drowning, injuries from diving in shallow water and falls on slippery surfaces can lead to sprains and strains, broken bones, and head, neck, and spine injuries. In fact, over a two-month period, more than 47,000 children went to the ER for swimming injuries. Remind children to walk with caution near pools and other wet surfaces and to always check the depth before jumping or diving.
Every year in the U.S., more than 100,000 children are hurt in trampoline accidents. Most of these injuries occur among children ages 3-10. They include cuts, bruises, concussions, and bone fractures.
Playing on a trampoline does come with some risk and accidents aren’t entirely preventable. But there are things you can to do make this activity a bit safer. Enclose your trampoline with a net to keep children from falling off.
Have kids take turns to avoid collision injuries, and don’t allow flips, somersaults, and other stunts. Make sure your trampoline is in good condition and located in a clear, flat area that is free of hazards.
The playground is another fun gathering spot for young children during the summer months. Supervise little ones as they explore the equipment and opt for play areas that are built upon soft surfaces. A stumble on gravel or concrete is going to hurt a bit more than a fall on rubber or wood chips.
Choose equipment that is age and developmentally appropriate for your child. Teach children about playground “etiquette” and the importance of waiting their turn and never pushing or shoving another child.
If your child’s favorite activities are on two or four wheels, helmet safety should be a top priority. The CDC’s HEADS UP campaign reminds parents, caregivers, and kids that helmets should be:
Although helmets cannot prevent concussions entirely, they do help protect against serious head injuries from direct impact to the head in a fall or accident, by at least 85% according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute.
Traffic safety is another safety concern for children who skate, scoot, and bike. Whenever possible, kids should avoid high-traffic areas and always be aware of their surroundings. Bike paths, sidewalks, and skateparks are the safest spaces to ride.
Over the summer break, children who play soccer, football, lacrosse, and basketball may be spending more time on the court and the field. Whether they are preparing for school tryouts, or just using the extra free time to do the activities they enjoy, prolonged, repetitive movements increase the chance of overuse injuries.
As the name suggests, overuse injuries occur from repeating the same movements for prolonged periods of time. Overuse injuries can involve the bone, muscles, ligaments, and tendons throughout the body. They typically affect children who play recreational and organized sports.
Common overuse injuries include:
Children who participate in high-impact sports and activities like basketball, gymnastics, dance, tennis, and track and field may be more prone to developing stress fractures if they don’t take proper precautions.
To avoid these injuries, make sure your child wears proper, supportive footwear for the activity at hand. They should eat a balanced diet, and make sure they get enough calcium and vitamin D.
Alternating low-impact activities with their regular sport or hobby prevents undue stress on specific parts of the body. Cross-training is not just good for kids; it’s an approach to exercise and fitness and injury-prevention that makes sense for people of all ages and stages of life.
Dehydration happens when you lose more water than you consume, and your body doesn’t have the fluids it needs to function properly. While it’s not necessarily an “injury”, it is a serious condition that parents and caregivers should be aware of.
Children who are having fun with all the outdoor activities summer has to offer may not always remember to drink enough water. Yet they are actually more susceptible to dehydration than adults because they have more body surface area per pound of weight. Hot weather and intense activity increase the risk of dehydration.
Plain water is the best option for proper hydration. If your child doesn’t like the taste of plain water, don’t reach for those sugary soda, fruit juices, and sports drinks just yet.
Many colorful, fruity sports drinks are laden with excess sugar, chemical flavorings, and even caffeine, which aren’t good for growing bodies. And they aren’t as quickly absorbed by the body compared to water.
Try switching out flat water for sparkling water or adding fruit slices, berries, cucumber, or mint for a hint of natural flavor. Children should take water breaks at least every 20 minutes.
Common signs of dehydration in children include:
Mild dehydration can be treated by oral rehydration, giving your child very small amounts of Pedialyte, Enfamil, or similar store-brand products every few minutes. Experts recommend one-two teaspoons for babies, and one-two tablespoons for older children.
Seek immediate medical attention if your child won’t drink fluids, has nausea or vomiting, or doesn’t seem to be improving after efforts to rehydrate.
Exposure to high temperatures and direct sunlight can lead to serious health problems in children who are not prepared and protected. Sunburn is painful skin damage that occurs from spending too much time in the sun without protection.
While the familiar signs of sunburn (redness, swelling, and tenderness) typically resolve within a few days to a week, the damage remains. A single sunburn can potentially increase your risk of developing skin cancer later in life.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, infants, toddlers, and older children need an SPF of 30 and that should be reapplied every two hours. (Babies up to six months of age should avoid the sun entirely.) UV-protective hats, swimsuits, and clothing are another good way to protect delicate skin from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Infants, children, and athletes are also more prone to the effects of extreme heat. Heat-related illness happens when the body’s temperature control system becomes overloaded. In some cases, sweating is not sufficient to cool the body down to a safe temperature. High body temperatures can lead to irreversible organ damage.
Sunburn and dehydration are both early signs of heat illness. Excessive sweating, muscle cramps, unusually cold or hot skin, headache, dizziness, and a feast, weak pulse are also warning signs of heat illness.
If you suspect your child has heat cramps or heat exhaustion, have them stop activity immediately and move to a cool, shaded location. Place wet clothing or towels on their body and give them small sips of water.
If they don’t improve, or have mental confusion, call 911. They may be experiencing heat stroke, a serious medical emergency.
For teens, summer often means the freedom of the open road. Kids are excited to pick up their friends and go to parties, the beach, or the pool. Driving is an exciting milestone for newly licensed drivers— and typically a source of concern for their worried parents.
The reality is teens have the highest motor vehicle accident rates of any age group. And as any experienced driver can attest, a car crash can be mentally and physically traumatic. Fortunately – there is some good news for families with teen drivers. Most auto accidents are preventable.
Talk to your child about the risks of texting while driving and other unsafe or aggressive driving behaviors. Hold them accountable for careless driving and let them know you will always be available if an impaired or dangerous driver seems to be their only option.
If summer suddenly seems a bit more dangerous than it did before, rest assured. Most childhood summer injuries can be avoided using the tips we have provided throughout. If your child does get hurt, skilled, compassionate physical therapists are here and ready to help.
Physical therapy offers a conservative, noninvasive approach to treating and preventing a wide range of summer injuries and recovering from them safely and gradually under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. We can teach your child safe, efficient movement patterns, improve their balance and stability, and lifestyle choices to help them feel their very best.
Whether your child has a sports injury, is hurt in a fall or car accident, or is recovering from recent surgery, physical therapy offers a wide range of evidence-based therapies to get them back into action. You’re never too young to experience the benefits of physical therapy! Find a physical therapy clinic near you.