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 come home with a minor injury.

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. The most important step in treating and evaluating the seriousness of a wound is stopping the blood flow, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Minor injuries should stop bleeding after a few minutes. To treat the injury, press a clean, soft cloth against the wound for several minutes and raise the injured part to stop the bleeding. Then clean the area with warm water. Use a mild soap around the perimeter of the wound to clean dirt and debris off the surrounding skin, which may help prevent infection.

You may want to use a cream or ointment containing an antibacterial medication. Place a small amount on the wound and apply a clean bandage after the bleeding has stopped. Change the dressing periodically.

Strains and sprains

Muscle strains and sprains may be difficult to assess because the damage is on the inside, the AAP says. Generally, a strain is when the muscle has stretched too far and partially tears. It can appear bruised, and pain, soreness, and swelling can develop several hours after the incident. A sprain is a more serious injury that may involve the tearing of ligaments. With a sprain, the injured area usually swells immediately, and swelling may be accompanied by acute pain. Sprains can take weeks to heal and can feel similar to a broken bone.

If your child has a sprain or strain, immediately eliminate 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, wear a bandage or splint to compress the area to prevent swelling, and elevate the injured part so that it’s above the heart. This may help relieve soreness.

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, the AAP says. Both types of pain relievers come in liquid drops or chewable tablets that children can take easily. Ibuprofen, however, should not be given to children ages 6 months and younger. Be sure to read the directions on the package, and do not exceed the dosage or give doses too close together. Be cautious when giving these medications in conjunction with others. Don't give your child aspirin unless under direction from your child's health care provider. Aspirin may cause a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome. For scrapes and cuts, you may want to use a topical antibiotic ointment that contains a mild pain-relieving ingredient.

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 sprains and strains, have your child warm up and stretch before physical activity. This helps prepare the muscles to be more flexible and resilient to injury. To avoid serious cuts and scrapes, have your child wear the appropriate sports gear for the activity, such as a helmet when riding a bike or a helmet, elbow pads and knee pads when skating.

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 if any of the following occur:

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

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

  • A sprain or strain has not healed after five to seven days.

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

  • The injured area feels numb.

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

  • An injured body part is oddly bent or misshapen.

  • The child has any significant injury involving the head or lip.

  • The child complains of increasing pain or breathing difficulty.

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