Study: Specialization before age 12 increases risk of injury

March 13, 2017 / Athletic AdministrationCoaching
A study conducted by Emory Sports Medicine recommends that young athletes should not specialize in sports before age 12, train more hours per week then their age, and should limit training to less than 16 hours per week to avoid injury.

Physician Neeru Jayanthi and his team evaluated the risks of sports specialized training patterns in nearly 1,200 athletes over the course of three years. They discovered injured athletes had a mean age of specialization below 12 years old, while those who were not injured specialized at a mean age greater than 12 years old. Investigators also found that on average injured young athletes played more year-round sports, participated in more weekly hours of organized sports, and also maintained a higher degree of specialization over the three-year study period.

Complete findings from the study are available in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Jayanthi will deliver findings at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) World Conference on Prevention of Injury and Illness in Sport, in Monaco on March 16.

“While different for each sport, determining a possible age of specialization, as well as other training factors, may help guide young athletes in reducing risk,” said Jayanthi, who is also an associate professor of orthopaedics and family medicine at Emory University School of Medicine. “Young athletes should participate in one competitive sport per season and take at least three months off (non-consecutive) from competition per year.” Jayanthi said this research also highlights that nearly 40 percent of the athletes reported an injury during the study period. He also noted that nearly two-thirds of those athletes in highly specialized sports experienced a re-injury.

“In another study, we also have some encouraging data that counseling young athletes may help to reduce some of these risks for injury,” said Jayanthi.

About the Emory Sports Medicine Center

The Emory Sports Medicine Center is a leader in advanced treatments for patients with orthopaedic and sports-related injuries. From surgical sports medicine expertise to innovative therapy and athletic injury rehabilitation, our sports medicine physicians and specialists provide the most comprehensive treatment for athletic injuries in Atlanta and the state of Georgia.

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