New equipment and jerseys. A dose of competitive edge. A rush of adrenaline. All these ingredients add up to a thrilling new fall sports season. Unfortunately, sports-related injuries are the leading cause of emergency room visits for kids between the ages of 12 and 17. How can young athletes prepare for an exciting season while being aware of the risks of injuries often associated with competitive sports?

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With the most common fall contact sports being football, soccer, cheerleading, and volleyball and the most common sports injuries including sprains and strains, pulled muscles, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, and concussions, it’s essential to educate yourself on how to prevent and seek further treatment for these injuries when needed. Consider the tips below, and keep them in mind as this fall season starts.

  • Prepare before the season even begins. Get a sports physical, and a health and wellness evaluation to determine whether the athlete is ready for the season and to uncover any underlying medical problems that could increase the chance of injury.
  • The safety gear worn for sports matters as much as how the athlete plays. Talk with coaches and medical staff about what the most appropriate gear is, and use it when practicing and competing. Remember that the best quality, most expensive gear won’t provide protection if it does not fit or is not worn properly.
  • “Don’t play when you are injured” or “Don’t play through the pain.” Both of these adages are especially important in the context of fall sports because playing while hurt or when an injury hasn’t had time to properly heal, could potentially sideline an athlete for the season or indefinitely. Overuse injuries can progress to an even worse injury. Resist the temptation to keep competing, and seek proper medical care. To prevent overuse muscular injuries, practice different workouts regimens by altering swimming, biking or strength-training in your free time or off-season. Cross-training works muscles differently than typical sports play, and can help achieve better muscle control and muscle balance.

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  • Train properly. Every regular workout should include a warm-up, a stretching period, and a cool down phase. This is essential for better flexibility and circulation, and is one of the easiest things to do to prevent injuries. Additionally, if your body is exhausted, stop. Muscle fatigue increases risk of all injuries.
  • Understand what the body needs to train and play competitively. Athletes need to recognize when a workout makes training their body for the better and when their body needs a break. Likewise, overlooking the importance of a regular, healthy diet, and drinking enough water to stay hydrated can be dangerous to an athlete. Stay on top, with a healthy, nutritious diet; train appropriately; and understand the body to prevent injury.

For more information on recognizing specific sports injuries and what the most common injuries are, read further here and here.