Specialisation and intensive training in one sport significantly increases the risk of serious overuse injuries in young athletes, researchers from the Loyola University Medical Center in the US have established. Based on the findings of the study, team leader Dr Neeru Jayanthi recommends that specialisation in one sport should not begin until late adolescence and young athletes should take a break from competitive sports for one to three months every year.
Dr Jayanthi presented the results of the study last week during the San Diego-hosted meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. As he told the audience, the likelihood for severe overuse injuries (for example stress fractures) jumps by 70% for youngsters who play one sport for more hours per week than their age. This means that a tennis player aged 12 is at far greater risk of such injuries if he or she spends 13 or more hours weekly on the court.
Working alongside colleagues at Loyola and Lurie Children´s Hospital of Chicago, Dr Jayanthi and his team tracked 1,206 athletes aged eight to 18. These young people were enrolled in the study between 2010 and 2013 after visiting the hospital for a physical examination or injury treatment. Some of the athletes are still under observation as each subject is followed for up to three years.
The researchers identified 859 injuries in total, among which 564 were overuse injuries. Within the latter group, 139 were serious traumas such as back or limb stress fractures, elbow ligament injuries and osteochondral injuries. These are the type of injuries that can keep young athletes on the bench for up to six months, sometimes even longer.