WEDNESDAY Aug. 22, 2018 (HealthDay News) – Young athletes who specialize in one sport, hope that it is a ticket for an athletic scholarship at the university, but a new analysis suggests that the practice might also force them to injure too many to use.
Using data from five previous studies, scientists discovered that athletes aged 18 and younger who concentrated on a single sport were nearly twice as likely to experience an overuse injury by repeatedly loading the same muscles and joints as peers who practiced multiple sports .
"The research supports what our orthopedic surgical colleagues have long been saying," said study author David Bell. He is associate professor of kinesiology and athletic training, orthopedics and rehabilitation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"Sports specialization was a real problem and a much bigger problem than we ever thought," said Bell. "It is really connected to severe overuse injuries."
In recent years, the focus has been on shifting the focus on children's athletic participation, from improving fitness, school performance and self-esteem to maximizing play time and the stock market potential.
Approximately 30 million children and teenagers in the United States take part in organized sports and experience about 3.5 million injuries annually, according to Stanford Children's Health. However, various medical and sports organizations warn against the increasing trend towards specialization in youth sport.
Although overload injuries can occur in different sports, most children have knee or foot, says the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Such injuries can affect the muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones or growth discs.
Even young athletes who were engaged in a "moderate" specialization – which means that they usually played one sport but were involved with others – were 39 percent more likely to suffer from overuse injuries than those with low specialization. Children with a high specialization were 18 percent more likely than average motivated people to experience an overuse injury, the findings showed.
Bell said the main message of the research was that young athletes should not specialize in one particular sport.
"But I also think that we should ensure that children get enough breaks … and take three or four months each year off from playing [concentrated] sport, "he added. Also make sure that they get two days off per week, away from sport, and do not do cross training or anything else. "
Another useful rule of thumb, said Bell, is that children play an organized sport for only the number of hours per week that is equal to their age. "So, a 12-year-old footballer would have to participate in no more than 12 hours of football per week," he explained.
Dr. Bradley Sandella, program director of sports medicine for Christiana Care Health System at Wilmington, Del., Was not surprised by the findings. "This has been a kind of a continuous hot-button topic among sports physicians for some time," he said.
"That is why most of us encourage athletes not to specialize in one activity or to be overactive in one activity compared to a variety of things," Sandella added.
Bell said sports coaches should be aware of overload injuries and not encourage their athletes to specialize.
"It is bad for the athlete's health in the long run," he said. "It means that it is more likely that your athlete gets hurt and can not play, no matter how good they are when they are on the bench."
The study was published online on August 22 in Pediatrics.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has more to do with overuse injuries.
SOURCES: David Bell, Ph.D., associate professor, kinesiology and athletic training, orthopedics and rehabilitation, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Bradley Sandella, D.O., program director, sports medicine, Christiana Care Health System, Wilmington, Del .; August 22, 2018, Pediatricsonline
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