May 03, 2011
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Young athletes who specialize in one sport may be at higher risk for injury

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Focusing specifically upon one sport could potentially result in a higher risk of injury for younger athletes, according to a recently presented study.

Neeru Jayanthi, MD, shared his group’s findings at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Young athletes who were injured tended to have more intense specialized training in one sport,” he stated in a Loyola University Health System press release.

Sport specialization survey

Neeru Jayanthi, MD
Neeru Jayanthi

According to the study abstract, Jayanthi and his colleagues performed a prospective cohort study on athletes 18 years of age and younger who presented to their sports medicine clinic for a sports-related injury, comparing the patients to healthy athletes who presented for sports physicals.

Participants completed a baseline survey that evaluated their participation in sports, as well as their height, weight and degree of sports specialization. Retrospective data concerning height and weight, if available, were obtained from electronic medical records and used to calculate rate of growth. Injured athletes completed an injury survey to examine both their injury and their training. The results of these surveys were compared with the uninjured control group.

A six-point sports specialization score was used. It checked for factors, such as training more than 75% of the time in one sport, training to improve skill or missing time with friends, quitting other sports to focus on one sport, considering one sport more important than other sports, regularly traveling out of state, and training more than 8 months a year or competing for more than 6 months of the year.

Consider multiple sports

The group recruited 156 participants — 93 male and 63 female — with a mean age of 13 years. There were no reported significant differences between the injured and uninjured cohorts in terms of height, weight, body mass index, number of sports played and age.

Jayanthi noted two relationships trended toward significance. The injured cohort spent more hours per week playing sports (19.8 hours per week vs. 17 hours per week), and the injured cohort spent more hours per week in organized sports (11 hours per week vs. 8.8 hours per week).

Jayanthi also reported a higher mean specialization score for the injured group, as well as a significant difference between the injured and uninjured groups when they were stratified by specialization scores. In all, 60.38% of individuals in the study with injury were considered by their score to be highly specialized.

“More highly specialized participation in sports may be a risk for development of injury in young athletes,” the authors concluded in the study abstract. “This effect may be influenced by training intensity, reflected in annual weekly hours of sports participation and organized sports.

“We should be cautious about intense specialization in one sport before and during adolescence,” Jayanthi stated in the release. “Parents should consider enrolling their children in multiple sports.”

Reference:
  • Jayanthi NA, Pinkham C, Luke A. The risks of sports specialization and rapid growth in young athletes. Presented at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. April 30-May 4. Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • www.luhs.org
  • Disclosure: No relevant financial disclosure was reported.

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