Children's Health and Wellness

Treating Minor Childhood Injuries

Sports and other physical activities can help kids stay healthy and physically fit, but they can also occasionally result in injuries. Scrapes and sprains are a fact of life for most children, so it’s good to know what to do when they occur.

Scrapes and cuts

When a child gets a scrape or cut, the flow of blood can make even a minor cut look like an emergency. Minor injuries should stop bleeding after a few minutes. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following treatment plan: 

  • Apply direct pressure for 5 to 10 minutes to stop any bleeding.

  • Wash the wound with plain water and examine for any debris.

  • Apply an antibiotic ointment and cover the wound with an adhesive bandage or other dressing that is airtight and watertight.

When to call the pediatrician

Call your pediatrician, or other health care provider, if your child becomes worse in any way, or if the wound:

  • Looks infected

  • Is draining pus

  • Is red

  • Becomes more painful to the touch

Strains and sprains

Generally, a strain is when the muscle has stretched too far and partly tears. It can appear bruised. Pain, soreness, and swelling can develop several hours after it happens.

A sprain is a more serious injury that may involve the tearing of ligaments. In a mild sprain, the ligament is overstretched. More severe sprains can involve partial tearing of the ligament, or complete tearing.

With a sprain, the injured area usually swells immediately, and may be accompanied by acute pain. Sprains can take weeks to heal and can feel like a broken bone.

Because children are more likely to break a bone than suffer a sprain, it is important to check with your child's health care provider if your child complains of a lot of pain, especially if it is over an area of bone. Children are still growing and fractures that happen through the growth centers need to be followed closely.

According to the AAP, the signs and symptoms of sprains in young children can be quite similar to those for a fracture and include the following:

  • Pain

  • Swelling around the joint

  • Inability to walk, bear weight, or use the joint

If your child has a sprain or strain, immediately get rid of weight or pressure from the injured part. For general treatment, follow the RICE rule:

  • Rest the injured part

  • Apply Ice or cold compresses several times a day to reduce swelling

  • Compress the area with a splint or bandage to prevent swelling

  • Elevate the injured part so that it’s above the heart.

Relieving the pain

When treating injuries from sports and other activities, pain relievers can be helpful in soothing the child and reducing inflammation. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are pain relievers that are available over the counter and are generally safe with few side effects when given in the correct dosage.

Both types of pain relievers come in liquid drops or chewable tablets that children can take easily. Ibuprofen should not be given to children ages 6 months and younger. Be sure to read the directions on the package, and do not give more than the dosage or give doses too close together. Be cautious when giving these medications in combination with others.

Do not give your child aspirin unless under direction from your child's health care provider. Aspirin may cause a serious condition called Reye syndrome.

For scrapes and cuts, you may want to use a topical antibiotic ointment that contains a mild ingredient to relieve pain.

Prevention

Small injuries, cuts, and bruises are bound to happen to all kids. Although these injuries may be a part of growing up, you can take precautions to help prevent more serious mishaps. To avoid injuries, the AAP recommends the following:

  • Children should wear correct and properly fitted protective equipment like pads (neck, shoulder, elbow, chest, knee, shin), helmets, mouthpieces, faceguards, protective cups, and eyewear.

  • Condition and strengthen muscles before play

  • Stretch before and after play to increase flexibility

  • Include rest periods during play to prevent illness related to the heart and reduce injury

  • Stop the activity if injury or pain occurs

  • Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise or play

  • Postpone or stop activities that are high intensity during periods of high heat or humidity

  • Wear clothing that is right for the weather

It's also a good idea to keep a first aid kit on hand — just in case an accident occurs.

More serious injuries

Call your child's health care provider, or seek immediate medical attention for any of the following:

  • A wound that does not stop bleeding after several minutes of pressure.

  • A cut that has ragged edges, has skin edges that are far apart, or is especially long or deep.

  • Redness, bruising, pus, drainage, or swelling that has increased.

  • The injured area feels numb.

  • A popping sound occurs during the injury. This can indicate completely torn ligaments.

  • An injured body part that is oddly bent or misshapen.

  • Any major injury involving the head or face.

  • Complaints of increasing pain or difficulty breathing.

Online Source: American Academy of Pediatrics. Treating Cutshttp://www.healthychildren.org/english/health-issues/injuries-emergencies/pages/treating-cuts.aspx
Online Source: American Academy of Pediatrics. Tips for Sports Injury Preventionhttp://www.healthychildren.org/english/news/pages/tips-for-sports-injury-prevention.aspx?
Online Source: American Academy of Pediatrics. Using Over-the-Counter Medicines With Your Childhttp://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-home/medication-safety/Pages/Using-Over-the-Counter-Medicines-With-Your-Child.aspx
Online Source: American Academy of Pediatrics. Skin Injury (Cuts, Scrapes, Bruises)http://www.healthychildren.org/english/tips-tools/symptom-checker/pages/Skin-Injury-Cuts-Scrapes-Bruises.aspx
Online Source: Merck Manual Professional. Sprains, Strains, and Tendon Tearshttp://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries_poisoning/fractures_dislocations_and_sprains/sprains_strains_and_tendon_tears.html?qt=sprains%20and%20strains&alt=sh
Author: Wefers, Cara
Online Editor: Geller, Arlene
Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, MEd
Date Last Reviewed: 11/30/2014
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.