By Tony Jabbour, MD
All of us want our children to succeed. Many of us have children who have been playing a sport most of their lives and show potential for a college athletic scholarship. Sometimes it seems parents and coaches will go to great lengths to try to ensure their child can continue playing that sport, even when a physician has advised against it. They’re even willing to enter a risky game of Russian Roulette to ensure the child continues playing the sport.
More than 30 million children and teens participate in a variety of sports in the U.S. each year. Not surprisingly, about 10 percent will sustain an injury, sidelining them. Most injuries are simply mild strains or sprains. Some injuries, however, are devastating injuries, such as fractures, concussions, or major ligament injuries.
The highest rate of injuries in athletes occur in contact and collision sports. American Football, a collision sport, probably accounts for the majority of emergency room visits. Football injuries can include spine injuries, concussions, major knee ligament injuries, and shoulder dislocations.
Certified athletic trainers and sports medicine physicians’ goals are to provide a safe place to play and to assure safe return to sports after an injury. However, it seems the goal of some parents is to keep your athletic teenager in the game at all cost.
Our sports medicine team at Tulsa Bone & Joint works diligently with the athlete and the coaches to help return the athlete to play when it is safe to do so. The sports medicine physician makes the un-biased recommendation of whether or not an athlete can return to play, and coaches and parents usually agree.
Sometimes, though, parents seek other professional opinions to get clearance for their athlete to play. It seems like these parents are playing Russian Roulette with their child’s injury. Russian Roulette, by definition, is an activity that is potentially very dangerous. These parents’ primary goal is to keep the athlete playing yet another football game, instead of thinking of the dire, long-term consequences of their decision.
Here are the two injuries I see parents play Russian Roulette with their child’s injuries:
- ACL Injuries.
In regards to a torn knee ACL, usually we recommend that the athlete stop playing pivoting sports for a season until surgical reconstruction. When the ACL tears, it will not heal on its own. As a matter of fact, when the knee becomes unstable after an ACL tear, there is a very high likelihood that the athlete will cause more extensive knee cartilage damage upon return to playing. The more cartilage is damaged, the more arthritic changes will occur at a young age.
After the athlete is sidelined, many parents begin “shopping” for another physician that will clear their child to play again. Usually the second opinion doctor will put the athlete in a functional ACL brace that offers the athlete a false sense of security. However, the brace will not stop the athlete from damaging the knee further. It seems that the second opinion physician is just trying to appease the parent.
Unfortunately, many of these athletes that return to play with an unstable knee will damage more cartilage in their knee. This decision by the parents to return to play will cause lifelong problems for that athlete and will ultimately limit their sports’ career.
- Traumatic Shoulder Dislocation.
When a collision athlete develops a traumatic shoulder dislocation, the decision to stop playing for a season is best. A collision athlete with a dislocated shoulder has a 90 percent chance of re-dislocating his shoulder upon return to play football. If that shoulder is stabilized surgically, there is a 90 percent chance of not having a re-dislocation.
Unfortunately, some parents want their teen to keep playing, and they obtain a brace from another doctor. Sadly, just like with ACL injuries, I have seen many collision athletes sustain a second shoulder dislocation upon return to play. With subsequent shoulder dislocations, the athlete damages more cartilage and is destined to develop shoulder arthritis at a young age.
I recommend that parents ask the sports doctor many questions when their child is injured. Most importantly, ask yourself if the sports doctor is taking into account the potential lifelong consequences of your child’s ill-advised early return to play.