What you should know about spleen injuries if your child plays contact sports

I write a lot about high-profile sports injuries in my blog, but this one is personal. It’s a story about my son (he’s pretty high-profile in our house).

Yesterday, he was at his second lacrosse practice of the day when he was hit in the left side by a shot on goal. He came off the field and, while he looked uncomfortable, seemed to be okay. 5 or 10 minutes later, when practice was over, he walked slowly over to me and was in a lot of pain. He had trouble walking and was complaining of abdominal pain (pain in the front of his belly) and felt lightheaded. When I lifted his jersey this is what I saw.

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If your child gets hit with a lacrosse ball, softball, stick, knee or any hard object in this area on the left upper part of the belly/side there is a significant risk of spleen injury. The spleen is an organ in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen that has many jobs – one important one being filtering blood and storing red blood cells. That means that, if the spleen is injured (bruised or lacerated), it can bleed. A lot. Very quickly. A spleen injury is considered to be a medical emergency. Signs of a spleen injury can include abdominal pain, lightheadedness, shortness of breath and, in my son’s case, shoulder pain. He did not hurt his shoulder at the time of the injury – his shoulder pain was coming from an injury to the spleen which tickled a nerve on the diaphragm and caused referred pain way up in the shoulder.

My son was found to have a small laceration in his spleen. He was immediately evaluated with an ultrasound and X-rays of his ribs and lungs. This is what the laceration looked like on ultrasound:

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He’s doing just fine. Even kids with pretty large lacerations tend to do well and usually do not require surgery. But they need to be monitored closely in the hospital for at least the first 24 hours to watch for signs of bleeding (bloodwork every few hours and continuous heart rate monitoring). He’ll hopefully be back to school in a couple of days and, when he feels ready to go back to sports and is pain-free he’ll be back on the field.

I’m telling this story because a few of my close friends who are fantastic doctors said that they probably would have missed the signs of a spleen laceration if this happened to their child. If your child is hit hard on the left upper side of the belly (their left), or even in the abdomen/sides/back, and they have shortness of breath, abdominal pain, feel lightheaded or at times have shoulder pain you should get them evaluated immediately. I don’t give advice on my blog about treatment or diagnosis because without evaluating a patient personally I cannot make any accurate recommendations. But I do want you to be aware of injuries like this – one that I luckily didn’t miss in my own kiddo!

 

 

One Comment Add yours

  1. Jeremi Carswell says:

    A wonderful piece for very practical advice! Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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