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19-05-2011 | Article

Sports specialization may increase injury risk in children


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MedWire News: Participation in sports is rising among young people, but specialization in just one sport could increase the risk for injuries, say researchers.

Neeru Jayanthi (Loyola University, Chicago, USA) and team found that young athletes who presented with injuries related to sports participated in more hours of sports per week than uninjured athletes, and had a higher average score on a sports specialization scale.

They suggest that "early intensive training in a single sport should be delayed until adolescence."

The researchers previously showed, in a study of 519 junior tennis players, that those who specialized in tennis alone were 1.5-times more likely to have reported an injury than those who also participated in other sports.

In the present study, Jayanthi et al included 85 young athletes (mean age 13 years) who were treated for sports injures and 69 uninjured athletes presenting for sports physicals.

Each athlete completed baseline and injury surveys, and were graded on a six-point sports specialization score.

Athletes who met three or more of the following criteria, and therefore had a score of three points or more, were considered "specialized": trains more than 75% of the time in one sport, trains to improve skill or misses time with friends, has quit other sports to focus on one sport, considers one sport more important, regularly travels out of state, or trains more than 8 months a year or competes for more than 6 months a year.

Injured athletes had a significantly higher mean specialization score than uninjured athletes, at 3.49 versus 2.75, and the majority (60.4%) of injured athletes had specialization scores above three, compared with just 31.3% of uninjured athletes.

However, the team says that this may have been influenced by training intensity, as injured athletes participated in a mean 19.8 hours of sport per week, of which 11.0 hours were spent participating in organized sport, compared with a respective 17.0 hours and 8.8 hours per week among uninjured athletes.

The authors also suggest that young athletes who participate in more hours per week of sport than their age could be at an increased risk for injury; 67.5% of injured children spent more hours in sports activity than their age, compared with 52.1% of uninjured children.

Jayanthi et al stress that the results, which were presented at the annual meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, are preliminary and further investigation is still required.

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Nikki Withers