With school starting soon, kids and teens across Massachusetts will be participating in fall sports.

While these activities provide both health benefits and fun, sports and recreation-related injuries for children under the age of 19 number in the millions each year. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently announced that emergency room visits in this category average over 2.6 million per year!

As our kids prepare for fall sports, here are a few tips to help keep kids healthy and safe before and after competition begins.

Get a pre-participation physical evaluation each year to monitor baseline function and screen for risks. This is where concussion screening and education can occur. This is particularly important as, according to the CDC, sports related traumatic brain injuries and concussions have risen 60% over the past decade. A number of these concussions and brain injuries sadly go unrecognized.

Use all protective gear designed for each specific sport. These include items such as mouth guards, eye protection, kneepads, and shin guards. Sunscreen should also be applied for those taking part in outdoor sports.

Allow adequate time and training for warming up and stretching after a workout. Young athletes should warm up before activity begins but not necessarily stretch until after their workout. Recent evidence points to the benefits of this practice. Stretching will lengthen muscles and increase blood flow, theoretically helping to prevent muscle tears, sprains and strains, fractures and shin splints—all common sports and recreation-related injuries according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).

Drink lots of water. Proper hydration is a must with all physical activity. All athletes should hydrate before, during, and after events.

If repeated activity is causing pain, seek evaluation. Sometimes overuse injuries can occur which are difficult to treat without proper evaluation and guidance on therapy.

If injured, go for evaluation and treatment. Waiting may advance the damage, further causing more problems for the young athlete. At AFC Urgent Care Natick, patients can usually be treated for non-life threatening injuries in under an hour, allowing families to get back to their busy weekend schedules!

It is important to remember that children are not miniature adults. Their bodies are still growing and their growth plates—the areas of developing cartilage where bone growth occurs—are vulnerable. With proper prevention and care, however, kids can get out and play while staying safe.

AFC Urgent Care Saugus is located at 371 Broadway, Rt. 1 South, Saugus.  The urgent care center provides state-of-the-art treatment for acute illness, trauma and sports injuries (including minor surgical procedures) and has an onsite digital x-ray service. Physicians are on staff at all times.