Orthopedic surgeon's tips on preventing back-to-school injuries

The start of a new school year is just around the corner. And with so much to prepare, from buying school supplies to getting back into a routine, avoiding orthopedic injuries may not be the first thing on the to-do list.

However, as a pediatric surgeon, I will tell you there are a number of prevention strategies you can easily incorporate into your back-to-school preparation plans to help keep your children healthy and safe throughout the year.

Whether your child is beginning kindergarten or high school, you may be purchasing new footwear and backpack for them. When looking for shoes for your child or adolescent, in general, I recommend flat shoes with a thick sole, some amount of arch support and are slightly wider than the foot. For the most part, the most comfortable and stable shoes will always be sneakers. Everyone's feet are slightly different, so it may take some trial and error to find the best shoes for your child.

Backpacks come in many sizes, shapes and varieties. The best backpacks for spine health should have two wide, well padded shoulder straps. Straps should be adjusted and tightened so the bottom of the backpack does not sag below the lumbar spine when worn. The weight of the backpack should not exceed 15% of your child's body weight.

When it comes to student athletes, the start of the academic year means an increased risk of injury regardless of the sport being played.

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are common in high school sports, and they are one of the most common injuries that require surgical treatment. The good news is new data shows the risk of ACL rupture can be dramatically reduced in athletes who take part in an ACL prevention program. These programs, often led by coaches or athletic trainers, focus on teaching proper body mechanics as well as strengthening the muscles around the knee. Studies have shown athletes who participate in these programs have lower rates of knee injury. They have become commonplace in professional and college-level sports, and they are beginning to become more common in high schools, as well.

Concussions are, unfortunately, a common injury among student athletes. The importance of proper prevention strategies — such as using a helmet and mouthguard, especially in football — cannot be overstressed. Repeated concussions can have a profound impact on a student athlete, not just when it comes to their ability to participate in sports but also their focus in academic studies.

If you have any questions or concerns about other ways to keep your child safe as they head back to school or start up with sports, don't hesitate to check in with their pediatrician.

• Children's health is a continuing series. Dr. David Fralinger is an orthopedic surgeon at Advocate Children's Hospital.

Dr. David Fralinger
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