More time spent in organized sport raises risk of injury in young athletes

Young athletes are more likely to suffer a sports injury if they spend twice as many hours per week in organized sports, especially in a single sport, than with free play, according to an abstract presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition.

Researchers surveyed 1,206 athletes aged 8 years to 18 years who visited one of two Chicago hospitals and affiliated clinics for either a sports-related injury or a sports physical. They collected information about length of training, degree of sports specialization, Tanner stage, height and weight at baseline and at 6-month intervals for up to 3 years.

Researchers determined degree of sports specialization by a six point score based on whether or not the athlete trained more than 75% of the time in one sport; trained to improve skill; missed time with friends; had quit other sports to focus on one sport; considered one sport more important than other sports; regularly traveled out of state; trained more than 8 months a year or competed more than 6 months per year.

Overall, researchers recruited 837 injured participants with a total of 859 injuries and 360 uninjured participants who served as controls. Study results showed injured athletes were older, reported a higher average hours per week playing organized sports and higher average hours per week in total sports activity compared with uninjured athletes. Injured athletes also had a significantly higher degree of specialization, even after adjusting for hours per week in total sports activity and age. Young athletes were more likely to be injured if they participated in sports for more total hours than age, and participated in organized sports more than two times as often as free play. Researchers also found young athletes at risk for serious overuse injury participated in more total hours than age and are more specialized.

“Our next goal is to research whether educating parents and kids about this ratio of time spent in sports vs. free play, and providing them with more specific guidelines, will reduce overuse injuries in youth sports,” Cynthia R. LaBella, MD, FAAP, of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, stated in a press release.

For more information:

Jayanthi N. Risks of specialized training and growth for injury in young athletes: a prospective cohort study. Presented at: the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition; October 26-29, 2013; Orlando, Fla.

Disclosure: LaBella has no relevant financial disclosures.

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