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More children are playing competitive sports today, which means higher rates of sports-related injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sports-related injuries are the leading cause of emergency room visits among kids between ages 12 and 17.

We see this trend in our claims data, too. Looking back at our data since 2011, we noticed a consistently dramatic spike in claims related to knee injuries for one specific age group: 17-year-olds.

These knee injuries—and other sports-related injuries like fractures and concussions—come at a personal cost, in both dollars and recovery time. They can also have a long-term impact on your child's health. For example, a knee injury not only can take a young athlete out of the game for the rest of the season, but it can also increase their risk of arthritis later in life.

We're here to help keep kids healthy and active—not on the sidelines.

Check out these sports injury prevention tips from Lindsay Hagler, an athletic trainer with The Center Foundation, an organization that places certified athletic trainers at high schools in Central Oregon at no cost to the students or their families.

Tips to prevent sports injuries in kids

1. Get the gear. Make sure your child wears protective equipment like helmets, pads, mouth guards and eyewear—and that they fit properly. Hagler also suggests runners are evaluated at a local running store to see what kind of shoe will work best for their foot type and biomechanics for better injury prevention.

2. Stress the stretching. Though most sports practices include warmups and stretching, it's important to make it a habit for all types of workouts. Dynamic warmups—like high-knees or side-shuffling—can be especially effective at activating muscles and reducing risk of injury.

3. Switch it up. Encourage participation in multiple sports. Specializing in one sport can put stress on the same muscles and joints, causing overuse injuries. Hagler says that playing a variety of sports has another plus—it develops different movement patterns, creating a more well-rounded athlete.

4. Fuel and hydrate. "Nutrition and hydration are huge for injury prevention," Hagler says. Try to keep meals healthy and at the same time each day. Make sure your child has plenty of fluids before, during and after practice. Watch for signs of heat-related illness, such as nausea, vomiting or confusion.

5. Know the risks, strengthen the muscles. Certain injuries occur more often with certain sports. For example, knee injuries are more common in girls' soccer than boys' soccer due to an anatomical muscular difference. What can be done for prevention? Hagler suggests strength training for the hamstrings and quads, as well as practicing proper running and landing techniques. Make sure your child starts strength training well before the season begins.

6. Recognize the injury. It can be hard to tell the difference between soreness and an injury. Hagler explains, "Generally, soreness is kind of a deep achy feeling, kind of stiff and tight. If it's an injury, you'll have immediate onset of pain." Look out for limps or changes in technique, and remind your child to tell you about pain or anything that doesn't feel right.

7. Communicate with coaches and athletic trainers. The beginning of the season is a good time to chat with coaches and let them know if your child has any preexisting injuries or conditions. Don't be afraid to ask coaches or athletic trainers about what they're doing to prevent injuries—it's their job to keep players safe on the field.

How your health plan can help

If your child has a sports injury and needs to get checked out, try using the Cost Estimator. Look up prices for office visits, X-rays and surgeries, and see how much they'll be depending on where you go. Remember to sign in first to see costs based on your benefits.

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Need to find a sports medicine doctor? They have special training on restoring function in active people, so that patients can get moving again—and back out on the field. Use Find a Doctor and search for "sports medicine" to find a specialist in your network.

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Sports are a great way to help kids stay fit and boost their self-esteem. With these tips, you can encourage safe practices—so your young athlete is less likely to have an injury this season.