Play it safe outside: Help kids avoid sprains, fractures and other injuries

Children playing at the park

Spring and summertime bring warmer temperatures, which means more outdoor play for kids. While active play is important for every child’s well-being, it also increases their risk for injury.

Common Injury Culprits

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency departments in the United States treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger each year for playground-related injuries. Approximately 56% of these injuries are fractures and contusions/abrasions.

“We often see kids with broken bones in association with outdoor activities,” said Clarabelle DeVries, MD, a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at UChicago Medicine. “Broken elbows, wrists and broken bones around the knee – these are very common with monkey bars, bicycles and scooters, and even with trampoline use.”

Pediatric orthopaedic surgeon Laura Lewallen, MD, agrees. Many of the common injuries we see are accidental, including falling from playground equipment or on slippery pool decks, and falls resulting from going too fast on bikes or scooters,” she said.

DeVries and Lewallen provide care for patients at UChicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital in Hyde Park and at our UChicago Medicine’s Orland Park location, which offers an orthopaedic walk-in clinic for children and adults. The walk-in clinic provides urgent orthopaedic care for bone, joint and muscle injuries, including broken bones (fractures).

DeVries and Lewallen emphasized the importance of taking basic precautions for injury prevention when participating in outdoor activities:

  • Playgrounds: Always have an adult around to supervise use of playground equipment.
  • Pools: Make sure parents and lifeguards monitor swimming activities and discourage running on pool decks.
  • Bikes and scooters: Wear protective equipment when riding, including helmets and wrist guards.
  • Trampolines: Always have a net around the trampoline and allow one child to use the trampoline at a time. (“Many trampoline injuries come from the infamous double bounce!” DeVries said.)

Treating Injuries from Falls

Even with precautions, falls and accidents happen. For more minor orthopaedic injuries such as sprains and strains, DeVries recommends treatment to include rest, ice, elevation and an anti-inflammatory painkiller like ibuprofen. If the injury results in persistent pain, swelling, or inability to walk on or use the affected extremity, further evaluation may be needed. DeVries and Lewallen urge immediate evaluation for injuries involving large open wounds or significant deformity of the limb, or those causing the foot or hand to turn white or cold.

Clarabelle DeVries

Clarabelle DeVries, MD

Clarabelle DeVries, MD, specializes in pediatric orthopaedic surgery, and takes a comprehensive approach to diagnosing and treating pediatric orthopaedic conditions, including scoliosis, clubfoot, hip dysplasia and cerebral palsy. Dr. DeVries' expertise spans everything from broken bones and sports injuries to limb deformities and length discrepancies.

Learn more about Dr. DeVries
Laura Lewallen

Laura Lewallen, MD

Laura Lewallen, MD, specializes in pediatric orthopaedic surgery with a focus on diagnosing and treating upper extremity conditions (shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist and hand) in children of all ages.

Learn more about Dr. Lewallen

Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgery

The pediatric orthopaedic surgeons at University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital offer comprehensive and compassionate care for children with illness or injuries of the bones, joints and muscles.

Read about our pediatric orthopaedic services