Sprains, strains, blisters, bruises and the lot are an unavoidable part of life for active kids. For children involved in sports, the stakes are even higher — to the tune of about 3.5 million sports-related injuries a year in the United States. Fortunately, only one in four of those injuries are serious, making the rest of them eligible candidates for home remedies.
Obviously, fractures, growth-plate injuries, head bangs and other serious wounds require medical attention, but minor injuries can benefit from simple treatments administered by Dr. Mom. "Home remedies may not be appropriate for treating every situation all the time; when in doubt, it is always best to consult a medical professional," says Dr. Philip Hagen, a preventive medicine expert at Mayo Clinic and editor-in-chief of the new "Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies." "But it may be possible to care for minor health issues at home, or to use home remedies to enhance the care you're already receiving from your doctor."
Sprains and strains
For immediate care of a sprain, use one of the most reliable home remedies known to man — the R.I.C.E. approach (rest, ice, compression and elevation).
Rest: Keep your child from movement and activities that cause pain, swelling or discomfort, but don't ban all physical activity. Consider it “relative rest.”
Ice: Even if you know your child needs to see the doctor, ice the area right away until you get there. For icing, use an ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes and repeat every two to three hours for the first 48 to 72 hours. (No need to wake your child while sleeping, though.) The cold temperature helps to reduce pain, swelling and inflammation in injured muscles, joints and connective tissues, and may decrease bleeding if a tear has occurred. If the area turns white, remove ice immediately as it may indicate a cold injury.
Compression: Compressing a sprain with an elastic bandage helps to stop swelling. Be careful not to wrap the area too tightly or you may prohibit circulation. Begin wrapping at the end farthest from the heart and work inward. Loosen the wrap if the pain increases, if the area becomes numb or if swelling occurs below the wrapped area.
Elevation: To reduce swelling by way of gravity, have your child elevate the affected area to a level above the heart.
Also try Traumeel: Traumeel is a brand name homeopathic ointment that is used to aid in recovery from sprains, strains, bruises, nerve pain, swelling and post-surgical pain. It is popularly used by professional athletes (the German Olympic team doesn’t seem to leave home without it!). It’s a combination of arnica (see below) and other all-natural ingredients like calendula and chamomile; there are a number of studies that back up the claims of its efficacy.
Sometimes the worst part of a bruise is its harrowing appearance after the pain has dissipated! In general, bruises respond best to treatment that is given immediately, before the area begins to darken.
- Apply an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables to the area for 20–30 minutes to minimize discoloration and swelling. (Be careful not to apply ice directly to the skin.)
- If the bruise consumes a large area of the leg or foot, the leg should be kept elevated as much as possible during the first 24 hours after the injury.
- After 48 hours, heat by means of a warm washcloth can be applied to the bruise for 10 minutes two to three times a day, this works to increase blood flow to the damaged area allowing the skin to reabsorb the blood more quickly.
Also try arnica: For soreness and inflammation, many professional athletes rely on this homeopathic gel or ointment. Arnica also hastens the healing of bruises. Arnica montana is a plant native to mountainous areas of Europe and North America, and has been used for centuries to treat a variety of pains. Athletes rub it on muscles to soothe soreness and strains, and arthritis sufferers rub it on joints to reduce pain and swelling. The New York Times notes that “it’s believed that the plant contains derivatives of thymol, which seems to have anti-inflammatory effects. Either way, scientists have found good evidence that it works.”
Curse the blasted blister! Blisters will usually heal on their own and there’s not much you can do, nonetheless, here’s how to handle them for best results, according to Children’s Hospital Boston:
- Wash the area with soap and water.
- Apply a cold or ice pack to reduce swelling and discomfort.
- Keep the area clean and dry. Do not burst the blister.
- If the blister bursts, place an adhesive bandage or dressing on the area to keep it clean.
- Observe the area for signs of infection such as increased warmth, swelling, redness, drainage or pain.
- If you notice any signs of infection, call your child's physician. Antibiotics may be needed.
Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. It can occur at any age but is most common in young children.
- Provide a cooler, less humid environment.
- Keep the affected area dry.
- Dusting powder may be used to increase comfort.
- Cold compresses can be used to combat itching
- Baking soda or fine-ground oatmeal powder baths can be used to minimize itching. Add a few tablespoons of either to tepid bath water and stir until dissolved. Soak.
Swimmer’s ear is characterized by itching and redness in the ear canal, mild to severe pain, and difficulty in hearing.
Technically not a “sports-related injury,” but often a corollary event — so consider this a bonus.
The importance of avoiding sunburn in the first place can’t be stressed enough. More and more research is appearing that confirms the risk of serious forms of adult skin cancer after just one incident of childhood sunburn. That said, most kids are going to get a sunburn.
As dermatologist Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D. puts it, “there's no fast-fix sunburn treatment. Once you have sunburn, the damage is done — although it may take 12 to 24 hours after sun exposure to know the full extent and severity of sunburn, and several days or more for your skin to begin to heal.”
Here’s how to provide comfort while healing:
Keep cool: Take a cool bath, or apply cool damp towels to the area.
Use aloe vera: According to The New York Times, for sunburns that cause minor pain, redness or damage that is limited to the top layers of skin, aloe vera can make a big difference. Apply store-bought gel, or use gel directly from a leaf.
Don’t use these: Mayo Clinic urges against the use of products containing alcohol, which can further dry out skin. Stay away from sunburn treatment products containing anesthetics, such as benzocaine. “There's little evidence that these products are effective. In some cases, they may even irritate the skin. Benzocaine has been linked to a rare but serious, sometimes deadly condition that decreases the amount of oxygen that the blood can carry. Don't use benzocaine in children younger than age 2 without supervision from a health care professional, as this age group has been the most affected.”
Also, don't use petroleum jelly, butter, egg whites or other unknown home remedies on your sunburn. They can prevent or delay healing!
Leave blisters alone: If blisters form, don't break them. You'll only slow the healing process and increase the risk of infection.
Visit the doctor for sunburn treatment if:
- A severe sunburn covers a large portion of the body with blisters
- Sunburn is accompanied by a high fever or severe pain
- Severe sunburn doesn't begin to improve within a few days