Ally Carr was learning how to slide into home plate this spring when she tore the meniscus in her knee. She had to have surgery to repair the tear and missed much of the season.
The 16-year-old softball catcher at Maret School in Washington hopes to be fully recovered in time to play volleyball in the fall.
More than 38 million children and teens play sports in the United States each year, according to Safe Kids Worldwide, and it's taking a toll. About one in three kids playing team sports is injured seriously enough to miss practice or a game. Those who, like Ally, play multiple sports that put pressure on the same body part are at an increased risk for injury.
Ally's mother, Kate Carr, is president and chief executive of Safe Kids. She says Ally is trying to condition her knees to better withstand the pressure that volleyball and softball put on them.
Her organization, which works to prevent childhood injuries, is trying to raise awareness of youth sports injuries and teach children, parents and coaches how to prevent them or minimize their effects.
"We [need to] begin to help our children understand that if you want to have a lifetime of being active, you have to protect your body while you're young," Carr said. "If you don't, it will either limit your ability to play this sport that you love or it will cause a lifetime of damage."
Here's what experts say about some common sports risks for children and how to recognize, prevent and treat them.
Causes: A direct blow to the head or a hit to the body that causes the head to jerk back quickly can result in a concussion. Gerard Gioia, chief of neuropsychology and head of the Safe Concussion Outcome and Recovery Education Program at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, said it's like an injury to the software system of the brain.
Signs and symptoms: Loss of consciousness happens in fewer than 10 percent of concussions, Gioia said. If a child appears confused, stunned or unsure about what she is supposed to be doing, she might have a concussion, Gioia said. Symptoms also include headaches, a feeling of pressure in the head, dizziness, blurred vision or feeling like your head is fuzzy or foggy.
"When they raise those questions or symptoms, then we invoke the rule 'When in doubt, sit them out,' " Gioia said. "Remove the youngster from playing, let the parent know, and seek medical attention immediately."
Gioia and his colleagues have developed a smartphone app called Concussion Recognition and Response to help coaches and parents evaluate athletes after a blow to the head.
Treatment: If the child's headache is getting worse or she is not responding to questions, has trouble recognizing people, is slurring her speech or loses consciousness, go to the emergency room immediately, Gioia said. If the child is coherent but not feeling right and having some symptoms, call your pediatrician.
There is no set treatment for concussions that will fit all children, Gioia said, but parents and coaches should manage the child's activity level to give the brain time to heal itself. After a concussion, a child needs rest from physical and mental activities, and a gradual return to normal, as long as it doesn't aggravate her symptoms. If something does make symptoms worse, stop that activity.
"You have to figure out that sweet spot of how much activity you can tolerate without worsening your symptoms," Gioia said. "That's where careful management comes in."
Prevention: Gioia said parents should advocate with their coaches and youth sports organizations to follow the safest procedures possible. Many youth sports have altered their policies to increase safety, Gioia said. Football players are taught to tackle with their shoulders instead of leading with their heads, for example. Teach your child that it is not a matter of winning at all costs and that safety should be the top priority.
Causes: Extreme temperatures, particularly when combined with high humidity or intense sunlight, can interfere with the body's normal ways of regulating temperature, said pediatrician Stephen Rice, who co-authored the American Academy of Pediatrics' 2011 statement on heat sickness in children. Heat illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke, occur mostly outside and during the summer but can happen anytime or anywhere, Rice said.