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Dr. Heather Bergeson putting arm brace on a child, TRIA Kids

Helping kids cope with injuries


Bruised elbows and skinned knees are a part of nearly every kid’s childhood. Whether riding a bike or playing sports, kids tend to throw caution to the wind when they’re having fun.

Most injuries are minor and kids are quickly back to playing. But what about those times when a couple band aids and an hour or two of taking it easy aren’t enough to recover?

There is more to recovery than just physical well-being. Mental and emotional health are essential parts of recovery for injured athletes. This is especially true for injuries like concussions or sprains which cause athletes to sit out. These injuries can have a big impact on a kid’s sports season as well as their overall health.

Aimee Custer, PsyD, is clinical director of TRIA’s Sport Concussion Program. She sees firsthand how injuries that keep athletes on the sidelines can lead to loneliness and stress.

Dr. Custer says a kid’s team and school are important support systems. It’s crucial for kids to stay involved socially as they recover. This can help motivate them to stick with rehab. It can also help when they’re ready to transition back to playing the sport.

Mental recovery

A positive attitude also goes a long way when it comes to recovery.

“An injury can actually provide an opportunity for personal growth. It allows athletes to develop the mental aspect of the game,” Dr. Custer says. “Injury helps athletes build resiliency and flexibility. It also helps them gain compassion and mental toughness. Mental training is just as important as physical training.”

Terri Chmielewski, PT, PhD, SCS, is a physical therapist and research scientist at TRIA. She adds that kids may not have the same coping skills as older athletes to deal with psychological distress.

“Young athletes may need more support and encouragement to focus on what they can do instead of what they can’t do during recovery,” Terri says.

Some things young athletes can work on during rehab include:

  • Positive self-talk
  • Visualization
  • Relaxation and breath work
  • Keeping routine
  • Healthy diet and proper hydration
  • Stress Management

She adds that kids may not always be able to tell if they are physically ready to return to their sport. This sometimes causes them to return before they are fully recovered. This can lead to more injuries.

How we can help

There are many things we can do to support kids as they recover. Dr. Custer encourages parents and coaches to help by allowing the injured athlete to heal fully instead of play through injury.

“This is something we need to change in sports culture,” says Dr. Custer, “Mental toughness and supporting teammates are great qualities of sports. Playing through injury is not.”

It can also be helpful for coaches to find different roles for injured kids. One example of this is allowing the child to help with a team drill. This decreases the isolation caused by sitting on the sidelines.

Terri says we can also support kids by paying attention to spoken and unspoken signs of pain or progress. Adults can encourage kids to notice how their bodies feel and communicate openly with their doctor or parent. This encourages kids to take an active role in their own recovery.

Injuries are tough on anyone. Coping with an injury can be especially isolating for kids. Strong support and encouragement can help young athletes actively recover and return to the sports they love.

If your child has an injury, call 952-831-8742 to schedule an appointment with one of our sports medicine experts, or walk-in to one of our orthopedic urgent cares, open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.

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