Training harder and more may not be better for young athletes. A study presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition on Oct. 28, indicates the degree of sports specialization and weekly training volumes to be independent risk factors leading to greater injury in young athletes.
Researchers from Loyola Stritch School of Medicine, Northwestern University, and Children’s Hospital of Chicago, studied injured and non-injured youth athletes ages 8-18 recruited from sports medicine and primary care clinics. Data on training volumes, degree of sports specialization as well as height and weight were collected at 6 month intervals and evaluated up to a three year time span.
While the researchers did not find a relationship between growth rate and injury risk, they did find that the injured athletes tended to be older and spend more total hours/week participating in organized sports. Evidence showed those who participated in sports activity (whether organized, free play or training in the gym) more total hours than twice their age had an increased likelihood of sustaining an injury.
Additionally there was an independent risk of injury seen for those athletes that focused on one sport, even when accounting for hours/week of participation and age. Reported in healthychildren.org, according to lead study author Neeru Jayanthi, MD “The young athletes who more intensely specialized in a single sport were more likely to have a serious overuse injury, which typically keeps athletes out of play for a longer period of time.” Some experts feel it is healthier to encourage children to try a variety of sports, and advise delaying sports specialization until after puberty as a means of overuse injury prevention.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following to help young athletes avoid injury from overuse:
- Cross-train to maintain a healthy balance of activities
- Develop a good level of fitness in pre-season that can be maintained in- season, focusing on general conditioning as well as sport specific conditioning
- Incorporate proper warm-up and cool down exercises
- Rest up to recover physically and mentally: at least 1 day off /week, and a combined 2 – 3 months off per year from a specific sport
- Keep practice and training age appropriate, always keeping child’s overall wellness as the primary objective
Determining appropriate degrees of sports specialization and weekly training volumes can help medical and sports training experts to identify those young athlete at higher risk for serious overuse injury, and then devise a balanced strategy that generates a healthier athlete set for long term success.
Risks of Specialized Training and Growth for Injury in Young Athletes: A Prospective Cohort Study American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition, October 28, 2013: 3:30 PM) Florida Ballroom A (Hyatt Regency Orlando, formerly the Peabody) Neeru Jayanthi, MD1, Cynthia LaBella, MD, FAAP2, Lara Dugas, PhD1, Erin R. Feller, BA1 and Brittany Patrick, MPH3, Loyola Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood, IL, Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Chicago, IL, Orthopaedics, Lurie Children’s Hospital, Chicago, IL.
Sports Specialization, Hours Spent in Organized Sports May Predict Young Athlete Injury, Healthy Children.org, Oct.28