Wellness: Injuries and Emergencies

Treating Minor Childhood Injuries

Sports and other physical activities can help kids stay healthy and physically fit, but they can also occasionally result in injuries. Scrapes and sprains are a fact of life for most children, so it’s good to know what to do when they occur.

Scrapes and cuts

When a child gets a scrape or cut, the flow of blood can make even a minor cut look like an emergency. Minor injuries should stop bleeding after a few minutes. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following treatment plan: 

  • Apply direct pressure for five to 10 minutes to stop any bleeding.

  • Wash the wound with plain water and examine for any debris.

  • Apply an antibiotic ointment and cover the wound with an adhesive bandage or other occlusive (air and water-tight) dressing

When to call the pediatrician

Call your pediatrician, or other health care provider, if your child becomes worse in any way, or if the wound:

  • Looks infected

  • Is draining pus

  • Is red

  • Becomes more painful to the touch

Strains and sprains

Generally, a strain is when the muscle has stretched too far and partially tears. It can appear bruised. Pain, soreness, and swelling can develop several hours after the incident.

A sprain is a more serious injury that may involve the tearing of ligaments. In a mild sprain (grade 1), the ligament is overstretched. More severe sprains can involve partial tearing of the ligament (grade 2), or complete tearing (grade 3).

With a sprain, the injured area usually swells immediately, and may be accompanied by acute pain. Sprains can take weeks to heal and can feel similar to a broken bone.

Because children are more likely to break a bone than suffer a sprain, it is important to check with your child's doctor if your child complains of significant pain, especially if it is over an area of bone. Children are still growing and fractures through the growth centers need to be followed closely.

According to the AAP,  the signs and symptoms of sprains in young children can be quite similar to those for a fracture and include the following:

  • Pain

  • Swelling around the joint

  • Inability to walk, bear weight, or use the joint

If your child has a sprain or strain, immediately eliminate weight or pressure from the injured part. For general treatment, follow the RICE rule:

  • Rest the injured part

  • Apply Ice or cold compresses several times a day to reduce swelling

  • Compress the area with a splint or bandage to prevent swelling

  • Elevate the injured part so that it’s above the heart.

Relieving the pain

When treating injuries from sports and other activities, pain relievers can be helpful in soothing the child and reducing inflammation. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are pain relievers that are available over the counter and are generally safe with few side effects when given in the correct dosage.

Both types of pain relievers come in liquid drops or chewable tablets that children can take easily. Ibuprofen, however, should not be given to children ages 6 months and younger. Be sure to read the directions on the package, and do not exceed the dosage or give doses too close together. Be cautious when giving these medications in conjunction with others.

Do not give your child aspirin unless under direction from your child's health care provider. Aspirin may cause a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.

For scrapes and cuts, you may want to use a topical antibiotic ointment that contains a mild pain-relieving ingredient.

Prevention

Small injuries, cuts, and bruises are bound to happen to all kids. Although these injuries may be a part of growing up, you can take precautions to help prevent more serious mishaps. To avoid injuries, the AAP recommends the following:

  • Children should wear appropriate and properly fitted protective equipment, such as pads (neck, shoulder, elbow, chest, knee, shin), helmets, mouthpieces, faceguards, protective cups, and eyewear.

  • Condition and strengthen muscles before play

  • Stretch before and after play to increase flexibility

  • Include rest periods during play to prevent heart-related illness and reduce injury

  • Stop the activity if injury or pain occurs

  • Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise or play

  • Postpone or stop high-intensity activities during periods of high heat or humidity

  • Wear weather-appropriate clothing

It's also a good idea to keep a first aid kit on hand—just in case an accident occurs.

More serious injuries

Call your child's health care provider, or seek immediate medical attention for any of the following:

  • A wound that does not stop bleeding after several minutes of pressure.

  • A cut that has ragged edges, has skin edges that are far apart, or is especially long or deep.

  • Redness, bruising, pus, drainage, or swelling that has increased.

  • The injured area feels numb.

  • A popping sound occurs during the injury. This can indicate completely torn ligaments.

  • An injured body part that is oddly bent or misshapen.

  • Any significant injury involving the head or face.

  • Complaints of increasing pain or difficulty breathing.

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