Sports Medicine

Sports Injury Pain: Helping Your Child Manage the "Ouch" Factor

Your child is done with surgery or has sat bravely to get the cast or brace applied. Now you’re home and wondering: “What’s next?”

The answer is often pain control.

Anyone with a serious injury generally needs pain medication, but the dosage, timing, and approach will be different for each person. So it’s important to know your meds when helping a child with pain control. Here is a guide.

IMPORTANT: Always check with your child’s care provider before giving any over-the-counter pain medications. Why? Dosing is different for kids, and it’s easy for a child to overdose. These drugs also could interact with other medications your child is taking.


Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDS are among the most widely sold type of over-the-counter pain medication. Ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) and naproxen (such as Aleve) are popular examples. They don’t just ease pain—they can also reduce swelling.

Both ibuprofen and naproxen are generally safe, but they can cause some minor side effects. Your child might experience:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Upset stomach
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears

If any of these symptoms appear, stop using the medication and call your child’s OIC care provider right away.

Aspirin is also a well-known NSAID, but it’s not recommended for routine use in children anymore. If a child is coming down with a viral illness and takes aspirin, they can develop Reye Syndrome—a rare but serious condition that can cause coma, permanent brain damage, seizures, or even death. Always check with your child’s care provider before giving aspirin.



Acetaminophen (like Tylenol) is usually another common choice for kids. It’s safe and effective, and available at most drugstores. However, it’s easy to give your child too much. Why? Medications like cold remedies also contain acetaminophen.

If you have been giving your child acetaminophen for pain, and then they get a cold, do not give any cold medication until you’ve made sure that it does not also contain acetaminophen.

There aren’t many side effects of acetaminophen. But if your child does start showing signs such as convulsions or jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes), get medical help immediately—these can be symptoms of acetaminophen poisoning.


Opioids (also called narcotics) are effective for severe pain. However, they’re available only by prescription for short-term pain management. They’re usually prescribed for adults and adolescents, as there is little research available about the effects of opioids in children.

That said, your child’s care provider might decide that an opioid—such as codeine or morphine—is the best option for pain management.

Pay extra close attention to dosing. Give the medication only as needed, and do not give your child more than what has been prescribed. Opioids are powerful medications.

Although opioids are great at relieving pain, they can come with some side effects:

  • Constipation and hard stools
  • A drowsy feeling
  • Itchiness
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Frequent urges to pee, or not being able to pee
  • Mood changes (e.g., feeling giddy, or tearful)
  • Crazy dreams
  • Moderate hallucinations
  • Feelings of disorientation

Your child’s care provider might be able to help your child overcome side effects—like prescribing a laxative for constipation—so that they can keep up their pain meds.

Two Days, Four Days, or Even More Days

It’s hard to say how long your child will need to be on medication. Every child is different—some use medications for a day or two, and some need them longer.

The most important thing to do is listen to your child—and to the care provider. They will tell you when to stop the meds. If your child is still in pain afterward, talk to the care provider about whether it’s safe or not to resume taking medication.

Brand Name Vs. Generic?

For certain medical conditions, there might be benefits to using a brand-name drug. But for pain relief, generic drugs generally work just as well. They’re also much less expensive—choosing a generic over a brand name might save you hundreds of dollars.

Talk to your child’s care provider about whether a generic drug might be appropriate.

3 Ways to Help Ease the Pain, in Addition to Meds

Pain is common after a sports injury, but knowing that doesn’t make it easier to watch your child go through it. Medication helps, but sometimes, you wish you could do more.

And you can. There are additional ways to relieve your child’s pain and encourage the body to heal faster.

Here are 3 ways—in addition to medication—to treat sports injuries.

1. Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (RICE)

RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. This method is a powerful way to treat many sports injuries—like sprains and ligament tears.

RICE is especially helpful in those moments right after the injury, but it can also be used later on during your child’s recovery.

How RICE Works

To use RICE for your child’s sports injury, remember:

  • Rest—Your child should avoid any physical activity that could worsen the injury. For example, with a leg or foot injury, that could mean a weekend taking it easy, or the care provider might recommend using crutches for a while.
  • Ice—Apply a cold pack to the child’s injury for 20-minute sessions throughout the day. This can ease the pain and reduce swelling. Be careful not to put any ice directly on your child’s skin.
  • Compression—Your child can wear a supportive brace or an elastic compression bandage. This helps prevent swelling and keeps the limb immobilized to prevent further injury. Ask your child’s care provider about the right type of brace or bandage.
  • Elevation—This is another great way to keep the swelling down. Your child should keep the injured limb positioned higher than their heart to encourage excess fluid and blood to flow away from the swollen area.

Using Ice: Dos and Don’ts

  • DO apply an ice pack to the injured area for 20 to 30 minutes, at least twice daily.
  • DO ice your child’s injury if there’s pain, swelling, inflammation, or muscle spasms.
  • DO NOT use ice if your child has an open wound.
  • DO NOT use ice if the injured area feels numb.
  • DO NOT ice if your child’s pain or swelling is due to a nerve injury.

Does your child’s injury fall into the “DO NOT” category? In these cases, ask your OIC sports medicine care provider about alternatives to using ice.

2. Heat

For sprains, strains, ligament tears, and other soft-tissue injuries, heat can be a good alternative or addition to medication. This is because heat:

  • Increases blood circulation
  • Relieves pain
  • Eases muscle spasms

However, heat can also make both swelling and inflammation worse. If you aren’t sure whether heat or ice is the better option, ask your OIC care provider.

3. Exercise

With some injuries, physical therapy can reduce pain over time. This is because movement promotes healing and prevents scar tissue from tightening or stiffening.

Also, therapy strengthens the muscles around an injured spot (such as a joint), which means your child will be putting less stress on it.

If exercise and physical therapy are part of your child’s treatment plan, keep in mind that they should:

  • Perform exercises only in the way the care provider prescribes
  • Don’t overdo it and risk re-injury
  • Start gently and slowly. This is not the time to be competitive. Increase the intensity gradually under the supervision of a care provider.
  • Follow the recommended exercise routine consistently to stay on track for a full, speedy recovery.


What About Massage and Other Holistic Treatments?

Always talk to your child’s OIC care provider before trying alternative treatment options like massage, acupuncture, or herbal remedies.

They may seem harmless, but some holistic treatments can interfere with your child’s recovery, especially if they’re taking medication. It’s important to make sure your child’s care provider gives the greenlight to any holistic treatments first.