How to keep your kids safe in sports this spring.

When children participate in sports, they improve their physical fitness and coordination, and it teaches them about competition and team play.

"In general, youth sports are relatively safe," said Mike Gittelman, MD., chair of the Ohio Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention. "Injuries become more of a concern as a child grows and gets older."

According to the Injury Free Coalition for Kids, children less than 10 years of age are injured more commonly during individual recreational activities rather than organized sports. These injuries may occur as a child collides or falls while riding a bicycle, sledding, or skating. Typically, these injuries occur within the first week of the activity, before the child can fully grasp the skills required for the task.

Older children are more likely to be injured during organized sporting activities. The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that the majority of injuries reported in children involved in an organized sport are minor, resulting in less than one week of practice missed. This Commission also reports that for children less than 15 years of age, more than 3.5 million sports-related injuries are treated in hospitals and physician's offices each year which represents one-fourth of all emergency department injuries for children.

Dr. Gittelman, a pediatric emergency room physician at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, stated, "Injuries among young athletes can fall into two categories: acute injuries and overuse injuries. Both of these types of injuries usually involve muscles and bones."

The most common acute injuries are strains, sprains, fractures or bruises, usually resulting from a collision, sudden twist, or a fall onto a particular body part. Overuse injuries tend to occur due to repetitive, small injuries to an immature and developing body. Common overuse injuries that may be seen include: tendonitis, stress fractures, bursitis, and strains.

Many sports injuries are preventable, just like many other causes of injury to children are preventable. By recognizing potential injuries and by understanding the risks of each sport, by making improvements in rules and equipments, and by better preparing the child for the sport, participation can be safe.

"Specifically, prior to competition," Dr. Gittelman said, "young athletes and their families should research the particular sport to determine if the sport is appropriate for the child, purchase the appropriate equipment to play, and receive a pre-participation physical evaluation."

Remember that all sports can place children at risk for an injury, and by preplanning, and with adequate training, your child can be safe and healthy. Finally, the most important detail is to make sure that your child is learning and having fun in his or her chosen sport.