Summer Safety and Sports Injury Prevention

Author: Cat Goodyear, PA-C, Novant Health-GoHealth Urgent Care

Spring has sprung and summer is just around the corner! It’s time to talk about summer camp and sports—topics that go hand-in-hand with warmer seasons. Whether your child is shooting hoops with friends in the cul-de-sac, or playing on a travel soccer team, injuries happen. Most of us remember spring and summer as a time for fun in the sun, cannonball contests, capture the flag, camp songs, and s’mores. Digging deeper into your memories may evoke a few less “made-for-TV” moments, like mosquito bites, bee stings, sunburn, dehydration headaches, and sprained ankles. With some simple planning, it’s easy to create a “perfect” summer experience for your kids and, of course, YOU!

It’s time to start looking at summer camp and sporting options, as sessions and teams can fill up quickly once registration opens. The YMCA offers a wonderful variety of camps for children from preschool age through teens, half-day, full-day, and sleep-away, sports and arts, and everything in-between. In addition to these, there are county Parks & Recreation camps and sports leagues, community pools with swim teams, and plenty of “meet-up” opportunities for adults looking to participate in summer athletics. Most summer camps require campers to provide a copy of a recent physical exam. If you’re short on time, or just can’t fit in an appointment with your child’s primary care provider, sports and camp physicals can be done at any Novant Health-GoHealth Urgent Care location; There are dozens of locations from which to choose. For more information and to save a spot for your child’s sports and camp physical, go to www.gohealthuc.com/nc.

Now, let’s talk about summer safety and injury prevention. I may work in urgent care, but I’d rather not meet you there. The not-so-obvious dangers of summer are the heat and sun. If not prepared, almost anything can turn into a medical issue. To prevent problems, apply sunscreen before leaving the house. It takes 20 minutes or longer for sunscreen to absorb into skin and protect you. Then, and this is important, re-apply every 1-2 hours throughout the day, because water, dirt, and sweat wash sunscreen off, leaving your skin vulnerable. Remember that all your parts need coverage, so don’t forget: ears and nose, neck and toes!

Next on the critically important list is water. Our bodies can never get enough of it, and in the summer we need even more. Fluid loss from heat, direct sun, sweat, and breathing harder (because of all the playing!) can lead to dehydration quickly. Some early signs of this may include headache, dizziness, reduced frequency and/or amount of urine, darkening of the urine, and a dry mouth. If these occur, get to the shade, drink water, and rest. Keep the clear fluids going until your symptoms improve, then head inside to take it easy. Electrolyte “waters” (sport drinks) are good for replenishing important salts and fluids that are lost with serious sweating, but the best way to stay hydrated is to drink water throughout the day and eat healthy snacks, such as carrots and hummus, apples and almond butter, and crisp, cold dill pickles that crunch!

Moving on to injury prevention - it’s important to remember to stretch and warm up your muscles before taking the field or coming off your mark. It may be hot outside, but your muscles require gentle and progressively longer stretching to warm up, become pliable and limber, and to reduce the risk of tearing (called a muscle strain). This is true after the game too, when your body is recovering from the bursts of energy it has given. It’s easy to do! Find a shady place to drink water and do recovery stretches, and you’ll find that you experience less muscle soreness and cramps (the dreaded “Charlie Horse”) and increased flexibility and endurance each time you play.

While you’re stretching out your muscles it’s the perfect time to also warm and loosen up your joints. These bony intersections are full of complex structures (called ligaments) designed to support and react to every kind of motion. A sprain is a tear in one or more ligaments of a joint, and even a simple one can take a player out of the game for weeks. Protect your joints before and after play by taking them through full Range of Motion exercises. These include rolling, extension, and flexion. Every joint is unique and it’s best to take them through all possible movements before starting intense play. The very best way to protect your joints is to build strong muscles around them! For instance, strengthening your upper and lower leg muscles (quads, hamstrings, calf) takes the burden off the knee joint itself, and reduces the chance of a knee sprain or other knee injury.

Last but certainly not least important for having a healthy summer is critter control. Mosquito and insect bites can ruin an otherwise great day, and these annoying little attacks to our skin can lead to some serious infections! Wear insect repellent every day. If you’re going to be in the woods or exploring marshes, deep grassy fields, or other wilderness environs, then always wear a hat and lightweight long sleeves and pants. North Carolina is a hot spot for deer ticks, which carry not only Lyme Disease, but a few other not-so-fun tick-borne illnesses. These include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI), and a few others with scary names and difficult treatment. Have a partner, parent, or buddy check your body and scalp every day for ticks, because the sooner you remove them the less likely they can harm you.

Are you ready for some fun, now?! Too scared to leave the house? Don’t be. “Perfect” summers can still exist for us and our children, but it never hurts to have a health and safety refresher. Even if you do everything right, remember that injuries, bug bites and blisters happen. If you aren’t certain about a situation regarding your health, seek medical attention. Novant Health-GoHealth Urgent Care facilities are staffed with experienced healthcare providers and all the best equipment to serve your urgent medical needs. Our centers offer on-site medications, X-ray, splinting and management of orthopedic injuries, wound care, and more. And, we’re here for you every day of the year!

Learn more at GoHealthUC.com/NC.