Jump to:  A   |   B   |   C   |   D   |   E   |   F   |   G   |   H   |   I   |   J   |   K   |   L   |   M   |   N   |   O   |   P   |   Q   |   R   |   S   |   T   |   U   |   V   |   W   |   X   |   Y

Recognizing Internal Injuries in Young Athletes

Millions of children and teens in the U.S. participate in organized and recreational sports. These activities have important physical and social benefits, but they are not without risk. According to the CDC, nearly 2.7 million young people are treated in the emergency room every year for sports-related injuries.

If you are the parent of a young athlete, you are probably familiar with the most common types of injuries—scrapes, bumps, sprains, and strains. Less common but potentially much more dangerous are internal abdominal injuries from blunt trauma, serious injuries that occur when the body hits or collides with a large object. These types of injuries are most common in contact sports like football, ice hockey, soccer, and lacrosse.

Football player lying on the field

Types of internal abdominal injuries

Sports-related abdominal injuries are rare, but some studies suggest they are increasing. The most common injuries include:

  • Kidney injury. This may cause flank pain and blood to appear in the urine.

  • Spleen injury. This causes pain in the upper left side of the abdomen. The spleen filters almost 10 percent of the body's blood supply every minute. Tearing of the spleen can cause rapid and life-threatening internal bleeding.

  • Liver injury. This causes pain in upper right side of the abdomen. The liver has two lobes. The lobe most often injured is the right lobe because it is bigger and presses against the ribcage. A torn liver can cause severe bleeding, but it doesn't bleed as frequently as a torn spleen.

  • Abdominal injury to the pancreas, diaphragm, stomach, gallbladder, bladder, or intestines. Any organ in the abdomen can be injured.

Recognizing abdominal injuries

Because these injuries can result in rapid blood loss, it's important to recognize them as soon as possible. If you or the team coach, doctor, or trainer suspects this type of injury, your child should be transported to an emergency care facility for evaluation.

These are signs and symptoms to look:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Tenderness over the injured area

  • Rigid abdomen

  • Left arm and shoulder pain (spleen)

  • Right-sided abdominal pain and right shoulder pain (liver)

  • Blood in the urine (kidney)

  • Cold, sweaty skin

  • Bluish discoloration of the belly

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Rapid pulse

  • Low blood pressure

  • Loss of consciousness

Diagnosis and treatment of abdominal injuries

When your child has symptoms of abdominal trauma and is being evaluated by emergency caregivers, the most important part of the diagnosis is the pulse and blood pressure. A rapid pulse and falling blood pressure indicate internal bleeding.

This is what may happen next:

  • If there are signs of internal bleeding, an intravenous line is inserted and fluids are given to stabilize the blood pressure.

  • Blood tests may be done to measure blood volume and to type for possible blood transfusions.

  • If blood pressure cannot be stabilized, your child will be taken to the operating room for repair of any internal bleeding.

  • If blood pressure is stabilized, a CT scan with contrast may be done to search for any internal damage. Contrast is a special type of dye that is injected into the bloodstream to make the X-ray images easier to read.

  • If there is any blood in the urine, a special type of CT scan that includes putting contrast dye into the bladder and kidneys may be done.

  • Blood tests that look for liver enzymes in the blood may be done if liver trauma is suspected.

  • If any of the CT scans show internal bleeding, surgery will be done as soon as possible.

  • If there is no evidence of bleeding, your child may be observed or released.

Blunt abdominal trauma is a rare but potentially serious sports-related injury. If your young athlete participates in a contact sport, take some preventive steps. Make sure that the sport is properly coached and supervised and that a certified athletic trainer is available to evaluate any injuries. The athletic trainer should have an emergency plan in the event of a severe abdominal injury or other serious problem. In addition, protective gear for these sports should meet all safety standards and be worn at all times during contact. 

Reviewed Date: 01-29-2013

Sports Medicine and Adolescent Medicine
Joel Brenner, MD
Aisha Joyce, MD
David Smith, MD
Emergency Medicine/Urgent Care
Bradley Bishop, MD
Omar Blanco, MD
Kellease Brown, MD
James Burhop, DO
Mark Cartoski, MD
Joel Clingenpeel, MD
Noelle Gabriel, MD
Jennifer Galiotos, MD
Kathleen Garland, MD
Sandip Godambe, MD
Theresa Guins, MD
Andrea Hornbuckle, MD
Michelle Hughes, DO
Rupa Kapoor, MD
Connie Ketten, MD
Susan Lamb, MD
Jon D. Mason, MD
Jennifer McCarthy, MD
Jill Miller, MD
Stephen Miller III, MD
Alison Ohana, MD
Kelli Petronis, MD
Michael Poirier, MD
Faiqa Qureshi, MD
Dana Ramirez, MD
Lisa Remaklus, MD
Rosemarie Santos, MD
Suzanne Sartori, MD
James Schmidt, MD
Kim Schock, MD
Gretchen Stepanovich, MD
Kelly Vokoun, MD
Nicholas White, MD
Kellie Williams, MD
Health Tips
Avoid Soccer Injuries in Your Kids
Avoiding Joint Injuries
Cheerleading Safety
Eye Protection Keeps Kids in the Game
How to Avoid Common Running Injuries
Knees Are Casualties of Women's Sports
Little League Goes to Bat for Safety
Make Variety a Goal in Kids' Sports
Protecting Your Child from Sports Injuries
Sports Eye Safety Is No Game
Street Hockey: Good Surface, Gear Are Critical
Tackling Kids' Sports Injuries
Trampoline Troubles
What to Do About a Sports Injury
Sprains and Strains Quiz
Diseases & Conditions
Bicycle, In-Line Skating, Skateboarding Safety--Injury Statistics and Incidence Rates
Bicycle, In-Line Skating, Skateboarding Safety--Prevention
Eye Care/Avoiding Eye Injuries
Eye Trauma
Sports Injuries and Children
Sports Injuries Statistics
Sports Injury Prevention
Sports Injury Statistics
Sports Safety for Children
Tennis Elbow

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.