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Highly specialised young athletes more likely to have overuse knee or hip injuries

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New research has confirmed that young people who specialise in one sport are more likely to suffer certain injuries.

Until now, little research has been conducted on the prevalence of sports specialisation among adolescent athletes, and what that might mean for their health.

But a one-year observational study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that highly specialised athletes were more likely to report a history of overuse knee injuries compared with those classed in the moderate or low specialisation groups. Similarly, athletes who trained in one sport for more than eight months out of the year were more likely to report a history of knee injuries, overuse knee injuries and hip injuries.

High school athletes from a large high school were more likely to specialise in a sport than those attending a small school, the researchers said.

“Sport specialisation is a hot topic in sports medicine, yet there is a severe lack of empirical data that exists about the topic,” commented UW-Madison´s David Bell, an assistant professor with the Department of Kinesiology´s Athletic Training Program and director of the Wisconsin Injury in Sport Laboratory. “Physicians are way ahead of the research in this area and, anecdotally, they report that they are seeing more kids in their clinics that have injuries that used to be only found in older athletes.”

The study, titled Prevalence of Sport Specialization in High School Athletics, was recently published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

The authors concluded that participating in a single sport for more than eight months per year appeared to be an important factor in the increased injury risk observed in highly specialised athletes.

According to Bell, the key takeaway for young athletes and their parents is that children should be getting breaks in competition.