Portland is an active city and most children participate in at least one athletic activity. While physical activity is incredibly important and the benefits are numerous, injuries do happen. It is important for parents to be prepared and have a basic understanding of simple first aid. While you may not be a physical therapist, being prepared can help you feel at ease knowing they are ready to handle minor injuries.

Ready Your First-Aid Kit

A good first-aid kit should first contain a first-aid manual. This should cover basic treatment of bruises, cuts, and other simple injuries. It should also contain a few key items:

  • Scissors for cutting bandages
  • Instant heat and ice compresses
  • Ziploc bags to hold ice
  • Nitrile medical gloves
  • A list of emergency phone numbers
  • Your child’s medical release forms

A first-aid kit should also contain bandages or assorted sizes as well as alcohol or other disinfecting towelettes for cleaning and sanitizing a small cut or scrape.

Create a Splint or Sling

Splinting and sling material is an important component of a first-aid kit for a young athlete. This would include a triangular bandage or cravat cloth, 2”, 3” and 4” Ace bandages, 4” x 36” SAM splints, aluminum finger splints, and an instant ice pack. This is to immobilize an injured joint, bone or soft tissue injury and apply cold to help relieve pain and reduce swelling

Basic Treatment for Sprains and Strains

The most common sports injuries a parent would come across are sprains and strains. A sprain is an injury to a ligament while a strain is an injury to a muscle tendon. Ligaments attach bone to bone while tendons attach muscle to bone. Sprains are classified by severity.

  • A grade 1 sprain is a mild injury where there is slight stretching and minor damage to the fibers of the ligament.
  • A grade 2 sprain involves partial tearing of the ligament which results in abnormal laxity or looseness in the joint.
  • A grade 3 sprain is a severe sprain where there is complete tearing of the ligament. This results in severe instability of the joint.

Muscle tendon strains can range from over stretching, to partial or complete tears. Symptoms may include pain, muscle spasm, muscle weakness, swelling, inflammation, and cramping.

Treat Injuries with the RICE Method

Initially, sprains and strains are treated similarly through an anti inflammatory protocol known as RICE, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

Rest is the first step, this would initially involve removing the child from play after injury and then continuing to rest until cleared and safe to return to sport.

Icing is equally important in controlling inflammation and pain and by having access to an instant cold pack or Ziploc bags filled with ice a parent can help control inflammation early on in the healing process.

Compression involves using elastic wraps, air casts, or splints to compress an injured joint to reduce swelling. It is important to understand how to safely apply compression to avoid cutting off circulation and risking further injury.

Lastly, elevation involves raising the injured limb above the level of the heart to help control swelling. At home props like pillows or cushions can be easily used to elevate the injured region.

A bruise or minor strain may resolve safely with RICE within several days. In cases like this, when pain and inflammation resolves and the athlete is able to use the injured region without pain or discomfort, it is safe to slowly return to the sport under supervision. However, a more serious injury that involves significant swelling and pain should be checked out by a physical therapist who will determine the severity of the injury and either come up with a treatment plan or refer the athlete to a physician for further follow up.

Be Aware of Overuse Injuries

Young athletes may also be susceptible to overuse injuries. These types of injuries are caused by repetitive overuse of a tendon or other soft tissue to to repetitive strain and stress. They are more common in sports such as baseball players (especially pitchers), swimmers, tennis players, golfers and runners. While RICE is also an important first line of treatment, these injuries will almost always require professional care and physical therapy treatment to address the injury as well as the cause of injury.

Athletes may more rarely sustain an injury known as a growth plate fracture. These are injuries to the growth plates in long bones (bones in the limbs that are longer than they are wide). They can be caused by either trauma such as a fall, or repetitive stress which is more common when overtraining in sports. These types of injuries will generally cause persistent or severe pain, an inability to put pressure on the limb, and swelling, warmth and tenderness near the joint. Growth plate fractures always require the care of a doctor who will often refer the athlete to an orthopedic specialist.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

Prevention is the best way to address sports injuries. This includes simple tips like keeping hydrated, wearing sunblock, and making sure to take appropriate rest breaks during practice or games. Making sure to warm up and cool down properly as well as ensuring that equipment is in good condition and is properly fitting. Lastly, making a preseason appointment with a physical therapist can address any weakness or movement dysfunction. This can help to prevent injury and help allow a young athlete to have a safe and successful season.

GreenField Says


Erin Courtney of Life's Work PT sees GreenField Health patients at both the Eastside and Westside offices. "My goal has always been to help people achieve their goals. I love the opportunity that physical therapy offers to collaborate with and be an advocate for patients. I love the challenge that each individual case presents and there is nothing more rewarding than seeing a patient successfully through their treatment. Every day offers a new chance for learning and growth as a clinician and each challenge enables me to become a better therapist for my patients."