Whether it’s football, soccer, cheerleading or T-ball, fall sports season is already in full swing for many youths in Arizona. Without the proper precautions, children can be vulnerable to injuries.

Pediatric sports medicine expert Dr. Nicholas Edwards says most injuries he sees are a result of children and youths rushing into a sport without proper conditioning. He advises young athletes to know their limits – although that can be tough.

“You either have some internal pressure from the athlete or external pressure from the coaches or parents, telling them to go past their limits. So, if you listen to yourself and listen to your body, you know where that line is.”

Safety equipment can reduce a child’s chances of being one of the 4.4 million between ages 5 and 18 who end up in hospital emergency rooms each year, says Edwards, adding that correct sizing of the equipment is critical.

“Whether it’s shin guards for soccer or helmets for football, if something is moving around and doesn’t fit right, that can either cause an injury in and of itself or not prevent the injury that it’s been designed to prevent.”

One of the cheapest and easiest pieces of gear to use, he says, is a mouth guard, which cushions blows that can cause lost or broken teeth, concussions or jaw fractures. It costs as little as $1 and is recommended for all contact and collision sports.

Edwards recommends easing into sports and starting with lower-intensity practices. He also stresses the need for young athletes to drink plenty of fluids and take frequent breaks during hot weather.

Injuries should be evaluated as soon as possible by an athletic trainer or the child’s doctor, Edwards says, so they’ll know if – and when – they’re ready to get back onto the field.

Injury-prevention tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are online at www.cdc.gov.

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