Numerous health benefits but also the chance of injury await young people who participate in sports. When young athletes focus on a single sport, as many increasingly do, does the sport they choose affect their chances of sustaining an injury?
The study included 313 youths 7 to 18 years old (average age, 14) who specialized in a single sport, defined as training and participating in it for more than eight months a year. About 53 percent participated in team sports (including soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, football, cheerleading, hockey, lacrosse and badminton) and 47 percent in individual sports (tennis, gymnastics, dance, swimming, wrestling, track and field, cross-country, martial arts, diving, figure skating, horseback riding, downhill skiing and golf).
In a six-month span, about 44 percent of youths focusing on individual sports sustained overuse injuries, compared with 32 percent who focused on a team sport. Serious injuries caused by overuse also were more common among the individual-sport athletes (23 percent vs. 12 percent). The proportion of all overuse injuries was highest for tennis, baseball/softball and volleyball; the proportion of serious overuse injuries was greatest for gymnastics, tennis and dance. Acute, or sudden, injuries were more common among youths who focused on team sports, especially football, cheerleading and soccer.
Individual-sport participants started specializing at a younger age and, on average, spent more hours training each week than team-sport participants.
Young people who choose to specialize in a single sport. The researchers wrote that “higher training volumes at a younger age likely contributed to the higher proportion of overuse injuries among individual sport athletes, especially those involving the growth plates.” Several medical organizations recommend that youths not specialize in a single sport at an early age to ensure full neuromuscular development and to avoid a heightened injury risk.
Information on sports participation came from the youths’ responses on questionnaires. The study did not include comparison data on youths who did not specialize in an individual or team sport.
Online in The Physician and Sportsmedicine (tandfonline.com/loi/ipsm20; click on “Latest articles”).
Information on youth sports injuries is available at kidshealth.org (click on either “for Kids” or “for Teens” and search for “sports injury”). More on sports safety can be found at cdc.gov/safechild (click on “Sports Safety”).
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals.