The longer an athlete is inactive, the longer it takes for them to come back to full activity after a break. 

Connecticut Children's pediatric and adolescent sports medicine experts have been hearing one question a lot: How can athletes prevent injury? 

Here are 6 tips from Imran Hafeez, MD.

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There are 6 rules for sports injury prevention.

Returning to full activities right away after a break can easily lead to overuse injuries. But there a number of strategies to prevent that. And they’re easy to remember, because they all start with the letter S.

1. SPEED: Go slowly at first.

Your child should start at 50 percent of their activity before they took a break. Then increase just 10 percent every week. This applies to everything from running distance to weights lifted to pitches thrown.

person stretching

2. STRETCHING: Stretch before every activity.

Flexibility is key for injury prevention — and stretching is key for flexibility. So it’s important to stretch before any activity. (Warm up the muscles first by walking, running in place or doing a few jumping jacks or another gentle activity.) 

One of my favorite resources on this subject is the book “Stretching” by Bob Anderson, which suggests specific stretches for different types of sporting activities.

> Related: Is There a Best Way for Young Athletes to Warm Up for Sports?

3. SURFACE: Practice and play on a proper surface.

Hard and uneven surfaces like streets are more likely to lead to ankle sprains, knee pain, back pain and other injuries. So when your child starts easing back into sports activities, be especially careful about the surface they’re practicing on. No sprinting up and down the block — use surfaces that are level and naturally soft or designed to absorb shock, like most school tracks.

> Related: The 10 Most Common Sports Injuries in Kids

Young kid laces up their cleats

4. SHOES: Use the right equipment.

Kids grow like weeds. You want to look at the equipment that your child is using — especially after a few months off — and make sure everything fits appropriately, including shoes, helmets and pads.

5. STRUCTURE: Play the right sport for your body type.

Talk to your child’s doctor, coach or a sports medicine specialist about the sports and positions that work best with their body type. Certain bone and muscle structures are best suited for certain activities, but put an athlete at a greater injury risk in others. For example, an athlete with loose ligaments might be prone to injury as a pitcher, but could safely play third base.

6. SUPPER: Get the proper nutrition.

Nutrition is a big deal. Make sure your child has a proper diet, especially during growth spurts, when their body is demanding a lot of energy. If not, it could lead to significant injuries with long-term impacts.

Prevent minor injury now to avoid major problems later.

Often, one injury leads to another. So young athletes should do everything they can to prevent injuries in the first place — like following the seven rules above.

If you need advice or information, contact Connecticut Children’s Sports Medicine. We’re here to help.