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Treating Minor Injuries in Children

Sports and other physical activities can help kids stay healthy and physically fit, but they can also sometimes 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 occur.

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. Minor injuries should stop bleeding after a few minutes. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises the following treatment plan: 

  • Apply direct pressure for 10 to 15 minutes to stop any bleeding.

  • Wash the wound with plain water and look for any debris.

  • Put an antibiotic ointment on the wound. Cover the wound with an adhesive bandage or other dressing that is airtight and watertight.

When to call your child's healthcare provider

Call your child's healthcare provider if your child gets worse in any way, or if the wound:

  • Looks infected

  • Is leaking fluid (pus)

  • Is red or discolored

  • Is hot to the touch or swollen

  • Becomes more painful to the touch

Strains and sprains

A strain is when a muscle has stretched too far and partly tears. It can look bruised. Pain, soreness, and swelling can develop several hours after it happens.

A sprain is a more serious injury that may include the tearing of ligaments. In a mild sprain, the ligament is overstretched. More severe sprains can cause partial or full tearing of the ligament.

With a sprain, the injured area often swells right away. Your child may be in a lot of pain. Sprains can take weeks to heal and can feel like a broken bone.

Because children are more likely to break a bone than have a sprain, it is important to check with your child's healthcare provider if your child has a lot of pain, especially if it is over an area of bone. Children are still growing. Breaks that happen in the parts of bones where growth starts need to be watched closely.

The signs and symptoms of sprains in young children can look like those of a fracture. They can include:

  • Pain

  • Swelling around the joint

  • Inability to walk, bear weight, or use the joint

If your child has a sprain or strain, have them stop putting any weight on the injured area right away. Follow the RICE rule:

  • Rest the injured part.

  • Put Ice or cold compresses on the area several times a day to reduce swelling.

  • Compress the area with a splint or bandage to prevent swelling.

  • Elevate the injured part so that it’s above the heart.

Relieving the pain

When treating injuries from sports and other activities, pain medicine can be helpful in soothing your child and reducing inflammation. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are pain medicines that are available over the counter. They are generally safe to use with few side effects when given in the correct dose.

Both types of pain medicine come in liquid drops or chewable tablets that children can take easily. Don't give ibuprofen to children ages 6 months or younger. Always read the directions on the package. Don't give more than the dose or give doses too close together. Be careful when giving these medicines along with other types of medicines.

Don’t give aspirin or medicine that contains aspirin to a child younger than age 19 unless directed by your child’s provider. Taking aspirin can put your child at risk for Reye syndrome. This is a rare but very serious disorder. It most often affects the brain and the liver, and may cause death.

For scrapes and cuts, you can use an antibiotic ointment that has a mild ingredient to ease pain.


Small injuries, cuts, and bruises are bound to happen to all kids. These injuries may be a part of growing up, but you can take care to help prevent more serious mishaps. To prevent injuries:

  • Wear the correct protective equipment. And be sure they are correctly fitted. These include neck, shoulder, elbow, chest, knee, and shin pads. They also include helmets, mouthpieces, faceguards, protective cups, and eyewear.

  • Condition and strengthen muscles before play.

  • Stretch before and after play to increase flexibility.

  • Have rest periods during play to prevent illness related to the heart and reduce injury.

  • Stop the activity if injury or pain occurs.

  • Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise or play.

  • Delay or stop activities that are high intensity during times of high heat or humidity.

  • Wear clothing that is right for the weather.

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 healthcare provider or get medical care right away for any of the following:

  • A wound that does not stop bleeding after 10 to 15 minutes of pressure

  • A cut that has ragged edges, has skin edges that are far apart, or is long or deep

  • Redness, bruising, pus, or swelling that gets worse

  • The injured area feels numb

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

  • An injured body part that is oddly bent or misshapen

  • Any major injury of the head or face

  • Pain that gets worse or breathing gets difficult

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.