No parent standing on the sidelines watching their children play sport wants to imagine having to witness a serious injury on the scale of footballer Seamus Coleman’s double leg break in the recent Republic of Ireland’s World Cup qualifier game against Wales.
The full article was written by Sheila Wayman for the ‘Irish Times’ on Apr 11 2017 and can be found here: https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/doctor-s-smartphone-solution-to-child-sport-injuries-1.3030498
If you thought about it too much – and some risk-averse parents do – you would probably want to keep your little darlings away from all contact sport. But knowing the enjoyment and benefits it gives them, we keep our fingers crossed and cheer them on.
However accidents do happen and at most children’s games the “first responders” will not be a team of paramedics in hi-vis jackets but rather onlooking parents. From years of standing on the sidelines watching his own children play sport, paediatric consultant Prof Alf Nicholson is all too familiar with the cry “is there a doctor here?” when a player goes down – and stays down.
“People seem to panic really when somebody faints or falls or does something unusual. There is the sense of ‘oh my God, could this be something really serious?’,” he says.
Believing that parents and coaches could benefit from advice on first aid for children’s sports injuries, he has been a driving force in establishing a new website to guide them.
“It is something I have felt for a long time that is needed, if there is no medical person at a match,” says Nicholson of Temple Street Children’s University Hospital in Dublin, where there is a “huge number of injuries coming through – sprains, cuts, bruises, ear injuries, concussion – from all sports”.
It would be nice if their parents or coaches “knew what the right thing to do is before they even got to us”, he remarks. While the term “first aid” is often taken to mean dealing with minor cuts and bruises, it is also about recognising potentially serious injuries and taking appropriate steps before medical help arrives.
Rather than produce a booklet, the idea was that, as a website, this free resource would be quickly accessible in the pockets of anybody on the sideline via a smartphone. If your child comes home with an injury, it’s a reference point for guidance on whether or not a trip to a hospital emergency department is needed. It is also going to be updated and developed in response to user feedback.
“There was nothing out there of this type,” says Nicholson. There was no trouble securing the domain name sportsinjuries.ie for what is a multi-disciplinary collaboration funded by the Temple Street Foundation, which enables it to be free of advertising and commercial vested interests.
No one wants to make sport so sanitised that there is no contact and it is basically just running around in circles.
He acknowledges that there is increased parental concern about the risk of injury, particularly concussion in contact sports such as football and rugby. But “no one wants to make sport so sanitised that there is no contact and it is basically just running around in circles”, he suggests.
However, there is no doubt that at the high end of schoolboy rugby for instance, players are much bigger and stronger and are therefore sustaining higher injuries than before. Do governing bodies need to look at rule changes?
“I think they probably do. I think the high level tackle is an issue,” replies Nicholson who believes that not allowing any tackling above the waist in schools rugby might be a good idea.
In all the debate about the risks of contact sports for children, the one thing that is missing is hard data. The Irish Medical Organisation has called for the mandatory reporting of injuries incurred by students playing sports in schools.
Dr Ray Walley, a north Dublin GP and former IMO president who proposed a motion on this issue, which was passed at the organisation’s agm last year, points out that many rugby accidents happen in a school setting. If there is an injury to any employee in a workplace, it has to be reported to the Health and Safety Authority, yet there is no legal requirement for schools to do the same if a child is hurt on a sports field. (Nor do they have to report incidents of injuries to children to the Department of Education and Skills )
He is not, of course, suggesting every graze should be mandatorily reported but we should have data on pupils who suffer fractures, neck and head injuries “and the State does not”. Whereas in Canada, for example, analysis of data from its Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Programme, showed that ice hockey accounts for almost half of sports-related brain injuries among children aged five to 19, with soccer second on the list at 19 per cent and rugby fourth at 5.6 per cent.
We should know the extent of children’s sports injuries, Walley argues because “then you can plan for remedial action”. He cites the example in New Zealand where, in an effort to reduce rugby injuries, they have people within a certain weight range playing the sport together. “One has to ask, why have they done that?”
As Allyson Pollock, Prof of Public Health Research and Policy at Queen Mary, University of London, asked at the time of the publication of her book Tackling Rugby, What Every Parent Should Know About Injuries in 2014, “how can we prevent injuries if we don’t know what they are or how often they occur?” She argued that all schools and rugby unions should be collecting data.