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Sports Medicine

Caregivers: Tips for Helping Your Child Recover from a Sports Injury

When your child has a sports injury, they might be taken out of the game for days, weeks, or even months. As they're recovering, you might find yourself in a new role: caregiver.

You don’t need to be a doctor or a therapist to help your child heal, but there are several steps you can take as a caregiver to make recovery easier.

Here are 8 ways you can help your young athlete ease on down the road to recovery.


1. RICE It

Serve up some RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) to reduce swelling, relieve pain, and speed healing. Follow the RICE method right after the injury occurs, for at least 48 hours.

  • Rest—Reduce regular activity, and avoid putting weight on the injured body part.
  • Ice—Ice the injury for 20 minutes at a time, 4 to 8 times a day.
  • Compress—Use an elastic wrap, air cast, splint, or special boot to put even pressure on the injured area.
  • Elevate—Prop up the injured area on a pillow, at a level above the heart.


2. Do Nothing to Do Something

Those sad eyes might tug at your heartstrings, but wait until the care provider gives the green light before letting your child return to sports.

Hitting the field before they’re healed can slow down recovery and put them at risk for re-injury. If the care provider prescribed plenty of rest, make sure your child follows instructions. They will be better off in the long run.


3. Make Sure They Do Their Homework

A rehab program will help your child stay fit and build up toward return to the game. But rehab usually doesn’t start and end at the clinic’s door. They’re going to have home exercises, too.

Make sure they do those as often as the care provider recommends. At-home exercises can minimize pain, speed up recovery, and help avoid re-injury. They might notice that they’re growing stronger, too, which can give them a boost of encouragement.


4. Help Them Set Goals

“Get better” is a great goal, but it can feel hard to reach. Smaller daily or weekly goals can seem more attainable, such as “balancing on one leg for 10 seconds,” or “throwing a football 10 yards.”

Plus, your child will be able to look back at the end of the day or week, and realize how far they’ve come.


5. Eat to Beat an Injury

When a child is sidelined, they’ll need balanced nutrition more than ever. Make sure they eat the nutrients that are known to play a role in healing:

  • Protein (eggs, low-fat cheese, yogurt, plain baked chicken)
  • Vitamin C (citrus fruits, strawberries, baked potatoes, broccoli)
  • Zinc (meat, fish, legumes, nuts, whole-grain breads)
  • Calcium and vitamin D (low-fat dairy foods)


6. Make Them Feel Like They’re Part of the Team

Kids enjoy feeling like they’re part of a team. When they can’t play, they might feel isolated from their friends.

Find ways to make your child still feel like part of the team. Have them wear their team shirt, celebrate wins with the team, and socialize with teammates.


7. Pay Attention to Mental and Emotional Health

Sports injuries can take a toll on kids’ mental health. It’s natural for kids with injuries to experience sadness, irritation, anger, changes in appetite, or trouble sleeping.

Let your child talk about their feelings, and make sure they know that you’re there for them. If these emotional reactions worsen or won’t go away, or if they seem severe, it might be time to have them talk to a therapist or counselor.


8. Take Care of Yourself

Caregivers provide better care when they also take care of themselves, so don’t let your own needs slide onto the back burner.

Sleep, meditate, exercise, garden, spend time with friends—anything that will relieve stress, and keep your body and mind healthy.