Study: Individual-sport athletes suffer more overuse injuries

April 13, 2017 / Athletic AdministrationCoachingFootballSoccerTennis
A new study published this week concluded that individual-sport athletes who specialize suffer more overuse injuries than those who play team sports.

The study, published in The Physician and Sportsmedicine, concluded that young athletes who specialize in an individual sport — gymnastics, tennis, dance — were at greater risk for overuse injuries (i.e. gradual onset of pain and symptoms), compared to those who focus on a single team sport. Acute injuries (i.e. from a single traumatic event) were more common in young athletes whose single sport was a team sport, especially football, cheerleading and soccer.

“Kids in an individual sports usually start specializing at a younger age than those in team sports, and individual sport athletes tend to spend more hours per week training, which might explain why we see a greater proportion of overuse injuries among these athletes,” said senior author Cynthia LaBella, MD, medical director of the Institute for Sports Medicine at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Of the 1,190 athletes (7 to 18 years old) enrolled in the study, 313 reported participating in a single sport and training in that sport more than eight months of the year. Sports with the highest proportion of single-sport-specialized athletes were tennis, gymnastics and dance. These three sports also had the highest rate of serious overuse injury. The youngest age of sports specialization was seen in gymnastics (8.9 years), dance (10.8 years) and soccer (10.9 years).

“Better understanding of the relationships between sports specialization and injury risk can help us design more effective injury prevention strategies,” said LaBella. “For example, we know from previous studies that neuromuscular training may help to improve motor skills and performance while decreasing risk for injury among athletes specializing in a single sport. Our data suggest that young athletes specializing in individual sports may reap the greatest benefits from this sort of preventive neuromuscular training.”

We’ve previously written about the dangers of early sport specialization, and numerous studies in recent years have confirmed that multisport participation is better for a young athlete’s long-term health. A study published last month found that kids today specialize at a younger age than those who came before them.

Dave Winfield, Joe Maddon, John Smoltz, J.J. Watt, Joe Girardi and Giancarlo Stanton are just a few of the names in professional sports who have spoken out against specialization.

Click here to read more about specialization and the associated risks.

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