We all know the positive reasons for young people to be involved in sports: getting exercise, learning teamwork, devoting yourself to a greater cause. But most parents try not to think about the physical risks that come from playing sports, let alone what to do when their child is the one who gets injured.
That's why a group of physicians from Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR) have teamed up with former Chicago Bear Hunter Hillenmeyer to present seminars to parents, coaches and young athletes examining how to prevent sports injuries.
The seminars, including Tuesday's event at Oak Park-River Forest High School, focus on the top five sports injuries suffered by Illinois athletes, based on a new survey of high school athletic trainers conducted by the Illinois Athletic Trainers Association and MOR.
The survey found that knee injuries are most common (35 percent), followed by shoulder injuries (18 percent), back pain (16 percent), wrist injuries (16 percent) and concussions (15 percent).
MOR physicians focused on prevention techniques, such as warming up and cooling down properly, weight training with supervision, increasing flexibility and taking time to allow their bodies to recover, especially from repetitive movement.
"There's a thinly veiled blackmail our kids are undergoing," says Dr. Gregory Nicholson. "Girls especially seem to be forced into one sport very early … so they have a repetitive aspect to their game."
Parents shouldn't rely solely on coaches to make sure their kids play safe. Nicholson says that while almost all parents consider that the coach's job, nearly half of coaches admit that they've felt pressure to play an injured child.
Playing hurt is no joke, especially when it comes to concussions. Dr. Joshua Blomgren says that there are 1 million sports-related head injuries each year on the high school level alone, and 85% of concussions go unreported. And when an athlete has had one concussion, the chance of suffering another one - and having long-term adverse effects - increases exponentially.
Hillenmeyer, whose professional career ended as a result of multiple concussions (four to five in the NFL alone), says that brain injury awareness has "kind of become my cause in life after the NFL. I've made a conscious decision to educate myself on the topic."
He says that although awareness noticeably has increased even since he first started playing for the Bears in 2003, with stricter return-to-play guidelines and better equipment, there's still a lot of work to be done.
"There's a culture around the world of football that needs changing," Hillenmeyer says. "It's hardwired from a very young age. You have to hammer the point home… Concussions are not something to be messed around with."
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.