The tragic deaths of two Georgia high school football players following grueling summer practices has brought the need for player safety back into the headlines. The story also demonstrates the importance for parents of student athletes to know the medical ramifications of playing and competing. Here, three key questions and their answers.
How do I know my child is drinking enough fluids?
In the past few years, a spate of deaths among young football players practicing in hot conditions has frightened many parents and even caused the American College of Sports Medicine to call out the dangers of heat illnesses and heat stroke.
Guidelines for hydrating to prevent injury, established by the American Academy of Pediatrics, say that a good starting point is four to six ounces of fluid every 15 minutes for a 90-pound child. The AAP also recommends recording your child’s weight both before and after exercise to determine how much fluid he or she is losing. According to the AAP, athletes should be hydrating often enough that they weigh about the same before and after practice. Despite theories about whether water should be room temperature, the AAP says cold water is fine for rehydration, but kids should stay away from sports drinks, fruit juices, and soda, all of which contain too much sugar.
Help make your child aware of symptoms of heat illness, including muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea, headaches, or muscle weakness. Most sports programs are willing to reschedule or cancel practice in extreme heat; if you’re concerned, don’t be shy about voicing your opinion.
Should my child have an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram before the sports season begins?
Aside from well-publicized heat- and dehydration-related sports deaths, one of the hot-button topics among the academic sports communities is whether all kids should be evaluated via EKG or echocardiogram before the sports season — even if a routine physical doesn’t reveal any abnormalities. “It’s literally the most debated question,” says Dr. Manoue. “You hear about athletes dying because of heart issues that might have been caught in an echocardiogram.”
But according to Dr. Lyle Mason, who evaluated high school athletes for 25 years before becoming team physician for the Utah Jazz, cardiac problems that would prevent kids from participating in sports are rare. “Irregularities, like heart murmurs, aren’t uncommon,” he says. “If I picked up a problem, I’d have them go through an EKG, but nine times out of ten, it was benign.”
What are the most common injuries for football players?
“In football players, we see a lot of specific kinds of injuries,” says Dr. Manoue, including nerve injury resulting from trauma to the neck and shoulder, called ‘stingers,’ and concussions. “We also see a lot of ligament injuries. If an athlete has a history of multiple concussions or injuries that haven’t been repaired, he should not pass a physical.”
(A portion of this story was previously published as “Good Sports” on The Responsibility Project on 4/1/10)