'More training is not always the key to success:' OneSport Injury campaign warns against overspecialization in youth

Written by Shayna Korol | August 09, 2018 | Print  |

An increasing number of athletes under the age of 12 are specializing in one sport and training year-round, putting them at risk of overuse sports injuries. In response, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine launched the OneSport Injury campaign. 

The campaign released a webcast with new study findings and guidelines for preseason practices and back-to-school sports. Two of the presenters recently spoke with Becker's Spine Review about their research and ways for orthopedic surgeons to approach overspecialization and injury in youth sports. 

New study findings

Elizabeth Matzkin, MD, is the chief of women's sports medicine and a board-certified orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital. She also serves as an assistant orthopedic surgery professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Dr. Matzkin co-authored a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons on sex-based differences in common sports injuries. The study found young, female athletes have a higher risk of stress fracture than their male counterparts and a larger energy deficiency. "Up to 36 percent of female high school athletes don't consume enough calories, or the right type of calories, for their athletic activities," said Dr. Matzkin.

The study found female athletes are:

  • Between two and eight times more likely to injure their anterior cruciate ligament than males playing similar sports
  • Less likely to return to sports after an ACL injury
  • More likely to suffer a concussion when playing soccer, basketball and lacrosse than their male counterparts

Neeru Jayanthi, MD, is an associate professor of orthopedics and family medicine as well as the director of Emory Sports Medicine Research at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. He is the lead author of a study in Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach.

"When we first started researching this topic about 10 years ago, we noticed 50 percent of youth injuries were due to overuse," said Dr. Jayanthi. "Overuse injuries and serious overuse injuries seemed to be most closely tied to high levels of sports specialization. We were curious if this serious overuse injury risk, defined as taking more than one month off from sport, would correlate with high socioeconomic status."

In the webcast, Dr. Jayanthi presented findings from this first-ever study of socioeconomic status and injury risk from specialization. Injured athletes aged 7 to 18 were recruited from two hospital-based sports medicine clinics in Chicago and were compared with uninjured athletes between 2010 and 2013. Young athletes from high-income families were more than twice as likely to be highly specialized in a single sport.

Key takeaways from OneSportInjury

"There are many benefits to kids playing sports, and we want them to play sports," said Dr. Matzkin. "They do better in school and have better grades. They tend to thrive more socially. We do not want kids to lose the benefits of sports due to injury or burnout."

The problem starts early, Dr. Jayanthi said, with some children beginning to specialize before 10 years old. "The OneSportInjury campaign helps simplify a complex topic by letting the public know that in most situations, playing only one sport is more likely to lead to overuse injury."

Sports medicine providers can play a role in preventing these avoidable injuries. They can recommend and encourage patients, parents and coaches to limit sports specialization until middle adolescence for most sports. I "Increasing free play opportunities may be protective of overuse injury," Dr. Jayanthi noted.

"Orthopedic surgeons need to talk about overuse injuries," said Dr. Matzkin. "Kids and parents often do not want to hear that more training is not always the key to success. Remind them that the majority of professional athletes played more than one sport in their youth."

Click here to view the webcast.

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