Posts Tagged ‘overuse injuries’

Study: Benefits of Multi-sport Participation and Specialization Delay

| Injury

It’s not just about preventing overuse injuries, it’s also what 88% of college athletes do

Participation in youth sports is at an all-time high in this country, with kids starting almost as soon as they can walk. Children of all ages are in on the action, from T-ball and soccer leagues for kids barely out of the toddler stage to college and Olympic level athletes. Most do it for fun and social interaction, some have high hopes for scholarships or professional careers.

One thing most of these youth athletes have in common is parents herding them to practices and games, cheering them on, and supporting their aspirations. However, sometimes caring parents, intentionally or not, put unnecessary pressure on their children to excel.

Overuse and specialization

One area where this type of pressure is seen is in specializing in one sport. Parents seeking sports scholarships often encourage their children to participate year-round in recreational, travel and school teams of a single sport. Besides the potential for overuse injuries and fatigue, children are at risk for burnout. Kids have their limits and too much of the same thing may push them to quit playing altogether.

A study conducted by UCLA drives home these points . Of 296 NCAA Division I male and female athletes, 88% averaged participation in two to three sports as children and 70% didn’t specialize until after the age of 12. This research suggests that the odds of athletes achieving elite levels through specialization are poor. The exception would be in gymnastics where athletes reach elite levels at a young age.

The general rule of thumb is that children shouldn’t consider specializing until age 15 or 16. However, it’s always best to encourage kids to play different sports and even take a season off. It’s also healthy to balance sports with other activities, such as music, and involvement in scouting or other youth groups.

It’s a girl thing

Girls are participating in more sports at higher levels of competition than ever before. Therefore, it’s important for parents, coaches and players to realize that the anatomical difference between males and females leaves them more vulnerable to certain injuries.

Female athletes are more prone to ACL injuries than male athletes. This is in large part due to the increasing number of  girls playing soccer, a sport that sees more ACL injuries than most. However, the strength of the ACL can be affected by estrogen levels that fluctuate during the menstrual cycle. High injury rates among girls can also be attributed to the fact that they have wider pelvises and weaker hamstrings. This can put added stress on the ACL, according to New York orthopedic surgeon Armin M. Tehrany.

Keeping the lines of communication open

It’s important for athletes to be honest with their parents and trainers about how they feel about playing and any pain they’re experiencing. It’s equally important for parents and trainers to listen and act accordingly. If the child resists going to practice, maybe he or she needs a break. Many athletes fear being taken out of the game if they complain of injuries. Ignoring or playing through pain only increases the risk for further injury and even surgery. Being aware of and practicing sport-specific injury prevention is critical.

Source: Matthew Engel. “Top orthopedic surgeon urges parents not to push young athletes too hard,” 20 July 2017.

Risks of Sports Specialization Among Youth Athletes

Focus on a single sport can lead to overuse injuries

Kids are starting to participate in recreational sports leagues and camps at increasingly younger ages in recent years. T-ball teams, soccer leagues, swim clubs, skating rinks, cheer squads, tumbling schools and even dance studios are filled with little people, some as young 3 and 4 years of age.  And many are choosing to participate in a single activity year round from an early age.

Sports specialization (focusing on a single sport) in youth sports can, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), result in early burnout, emotional stress and overuse injuries. However, the risks can be mitigated by following recommendations by AAP.

Weighing the decision to specialize

Research shows that the physical development of children is better among those who play a variety of sports prior to puberty. Encouraging kids to experience a overuse injuries in youth sportswide range of sports activities also means they’ll be much less likely to lose interest or quit altogether. Studies show that children who specialized in a single sport from a young age tend to have more short-lived athletic careers.  The AAP recommends that children put off specializing in a sport until about age 15 or 16.

It’s important to determine why you or your child thinks he or she should specialize. More often than not, college scholarships are a motivator.  Be realistic about such opportunities: on average, 8% percent of high school athletes succeed in making a college team, but only 1% of those make it on an athletic scholarship.

Specialization and overuse injuries

Specialization can lead to overuse injuries, which can be muscle, bone, tendon or ligament damage resulting from repetitive stress and lack of healing time. One of the most common overuse injuries among athletes is shin splints.

Alarmingly, overuse accounts for half of all sports medicine injuries among children and teens. Children and teens are more susceptible to overuse injuries than adults because their still underdeveloped bones don’t recover as well from stress.

Preventing overuse injuries

So, if the decision has been made to specialize, there are steps that can be taken to lower the risk of overuse injuries.

Be Prepared:  It’s critical that all athletes maintain their fitness level both in and off season. General and sport-specific conditioning during the preseason are also extremely important. An evaluation by a physician prior to participation is the most essential step in determining whether a child can safely play his or her chosen sport. This should be done four to six weeks prior to practice and play to allow for time to address any potential obstacles to participation.

Train Smart: Weekly training times, distances, and repetitions should only be increased by 10% each week. For example, a 15-mile per week run should only be increased to 16.5 miles the following week, 18 miles the week after that and so on. Sport-specific trainingOveruse injuries in youth sports should vary. For instance, runners incorporate a diversity of running surfaces by running on the road, on a treadmill, on grass and in a pool. Likewise, training should include a variety of workouts, such as treadmills/ellipticals, weight lifting, and swimming.

Rest Smart: Training every day is a sure path to emotional and physical stress. Athletes should allow time for recovery by taking at least one day off every week from training, practice and  play. It’s just as important to take four to eight weeks off during the year from a specific sport.  A good rule of thumb is one month off for every six months of training and play.

Avoid Burnout: Overtraining can alter an athlete’s physical, hormonal and mental performance. Remember that a child should enjoy participating and the training should be age appropriate. They shouldn’t look at it as a job or a test. Be aware of changes in the athlete’s eating and sleeping habits. In particular, be alert for changes in or cessation of a girl’s menstrual period. Don’t hesitate to consult a physician if such changes are observed.

  • Trisha Korioth, “Too much, too soon: Overtraining can lead to injury, burnout.” 29 Aug, 2016.
  • “Preventing Overuse Injuries.” 21 Nov. 2015.