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Focus on One Sport Raises Young Athletes' Injury Risk: Study

FRIDAY, April 19 (HealthDay News) -- Young athletes who train intensely for one sport are at greatly increased risk for severe overuse injuries such as stress fractures, a new study finds.

For example, children and teens who play a sport for more hours per week than their age -- such as a 12-year-old who plays tennis 13 or more hours a week -- are 70 percent more likely to suffer serious overuse injuries than other types of injuries, according to the researchers.

"We should be cautious about intense specialization in one sport before and during adolescence," study author Dr. Neeru Jayanthi, medical director of primary care sports medicine at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, said in a Loyola news release. "Among the recommendations we can make, based on our findings, is that young athletes should not spend more hours per week in organized sports than their ages."

The study included more than 1,200 athletes, aged 8 to 18, who came in for sports physicals or treatment of injuries between 2010 and 2013. There were a total of more than 850 injuries, including more than 550 overuse injuries.

There were nearly 150 serious overuse injuries, including stress fractures in the back or limbs, elbow ligament injuries, and injuries to the cartilage and underlying bone. These types of injuries can prevent young athletes from playing sports for one to six months or longer, the researchers said.

Young athletes were more likely to be injured if they spent more than twice as much time per week playing organized sports as they spent in unorganized free play, according to the study, which was to be presented Friday at the annual meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine in San Diego.

Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Athletes who suffered serious overuse injuries spent an average of 21 hours per week doing physical activity (organized sports, gym time and unorganized free play), including 13 hours in organized sports. Athletes who were not injured spent an average of about 18 hours per week doing physical activity, including only about nine hours in organized sports.

Jayanthi offered some tips to reduce young athletes' risk of injuries:

  • Do not spend more hours per week than your age playing sports, and do not spend more than twice as much time playing organized sports as you spend in gym and unorganized play.
  • Do not specialize in one sport before late adolescence.
  • Do not play sports competitively year round. Take a break from competition for one to three months each year (not necessarily consecutively). Take at least one day off per week from training in sports.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about preventing children's sports injuries.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Loyola University Health System, news release, April 19, 2013

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