Kids who came to the clinic with injuries played organized sports an average of 11 hours a week, compared with fewer than nine hours in the uninjured group. Although the researchers did not specifically look at this, Jayanthi said he has noticed that more highly specialized sports such as tennis, gymnastics and dance tend to be linked to more severe overuse injuries.Because a child’s body is still growing, children who specialize in only one sport suffer repetitive injuries more often, a new study says.
In fact, kids are twice as likely to get hurt –playing just one sport- as those who play multiple sports said Dr. Neeru Jayanthi, medical director of primary care sports medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. "We saw a pretty significant difference with this intensity of training, along with specialization," said Jayanthi. The findings are slated to be presented Monday at the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine annual meeting in Salt Lake City. Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary. "It's been accepted for the last five years or so that kids who are not super-specific do better. They're cross-trained, so they're conditioned for other movements," said Dr. Kory Gill, an assistant professor at Texas A&;M Health Science Center College of Medicine. Jayanith’s research team had done earlier studies on 519 junior tennis players and found that the kids who only played tennis were more likely to get hurt. Jayanthi wanted to see if the same findings extended to other sports. "As a physician, you get frustrated seeing kids come in with injuries that keep them out for two to three months. It's devastating," said Jayanthi, who recently saw a young gymnast with a knee injury that will keep her off the mat for at least three months. Here, the researchers looked at 154 young athletes, average age 13, who played a variety of sports. Eighty-five of the participants came to the clinic for treatment for a sports injury, while 69 were just getting sports physicals. The investigation ranked each athlete on how specialized they were, basing the score on factors like how often they trained in one sport, whether they had given up other sports to practice just one, and if they trained 8 months a year or more to compete more than 6 months a year on one sport. What they discovered was that 60.4 percent of the athletes who had been injured were specialized in one sport, compared with only 31.3 percent who came in for physicals. Kids who came to the clinic with injuries played organized sports an average of 11 hours a week, compared with fewer than nine hours in the uninjured group. Although the researchers did not specifically look at this, Jayanthi said he has noticed that more highly specialized sports such as tennis, gymnastics and dance tend to be linked to more severe overuse injuries. Why did these injuries occur? "One reason is repetitive use of the same muscle group and stressors to growing areas, for example, the spine," explained Jayanthi, who stressed that the findings were preliminary. His team, in collaboration with Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, plans to enroll more athletes in follow-up research, and those athletes will be evaluated every six months for three years, to look more closely at how intense training can affect a young athlete's body during growth spurts. "Second is exposure risk," he added. "If you're getting really good at one sport, the intensity increases because you are getting better. People are developing adult-type sports skills in a child's body. The growing body probably doesn't tolerate this." Younger children -- those who have not entered high school -- tend to be especially vulnerable as their bodies are still growing, said Gill, who recommended that kids cross-train and condition for other movements, or just play another sport. "I tell parents to let kids be kids and play multiple sports," he said. "See what they're good at and what they enjoy." By high school, when bodies are more mature, specializing is safer, he added. When children play different sports in different seasons, they are using a wide range of motions and muscles. But when they begin playing one sport year-round, the risk of overuse injuries increases.