July 19-25 was National Youth Sports Week. The week serves to elevate the importance of youth sports across the nation.

More American children are playing sports than ever before. It's great news – physical activity helps children stay fit and feel good about themselves.

But injuries can happen. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sports and recreation-related injuries are common. They send more than 2.6 million youths age 19 and younger to emergency departments each year.

“Kids aren't small adults,” said Aspirus physical therapist Elissa Ewan. “Their bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments are still growing. This means they're more susceptible to injury. However, there are ways to ensure your young athlete plays it safe.”

The right equipment can make all the difference. Make sure your child has the right protective gear for the sport and that the gear fits properly and is in good condition. Also, have your child work on flexibility before and after games and practices to help release muscle tension and prevent injury.

“It’s important to teach your child to listen to their body and avoid playing through pain,” said Ewan. “Kids should also take breaks during practice. And they should have at least one day off a week from playing sports so their bodies can recover.”

Before playing organized sports, your child should have a physical exam. A physician, nurse practitioner or qualified clinician can do this.

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