Young Athletes Who Specialize Too Soon Risk More Injuries : Shots - Health News High school athletes who tended to focus on one sport were 50 percent more likely to get hurt than those who hadn't specialized. Injuries included ankle sprains, knee tendonitis, and stress fractures.
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Student Athletes Who Specialize Early Are Injured More Often, Study Finds

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Student Athletes Who Specialize Early Are Injured More Often, Study Finds

Student Athletes Who Specialize Early Are Injured More Often, Study Finds

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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For kids who are serious about playing sports, there's increasing pressure to pick one sport and specialize in it. That can mean year-round intensive training. It can make kids better, but a new study finds specialization has a downside when it comes to the risk of injury. NPR's Allison Aubrey has the report.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Let's go, baby. Let's go. Let's go.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: It's not football season yet, but for these football players training on a high school field in Washington, D.C., practice has been in full swing all summer.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: All right, Riley (ph), you're up.

AUBREY: As the boys line up for drills, I talk to one of the moms, Michelle Wilson (ph). She's got two sons on the field. And she says when it comes to football, they're all in.

MICHELLE WILSON: Absolutely. We're practicing year-round. We're going to tournaments year-round. It's definitely different from when I grew up.

AUBREY: Specializing in one sport has become increasingly common. Kids don't just play for their school teams. They're striving for elite-level travel teams and even college scholarships. However, a new study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine finds focusing on one sport can lead to more injuries among high school players. Here's study author Timothy McGuine of the University of Wisconsin.

TIMOTHY MCGUINE: We found that kids that had higher levels of specialization were at 50 percent greater risk of having an injury, you know, like ankle sprains, knee tendonitis, stress fractures in their foot.

AUBREY: Until now, many reports about these kinds of injuries have just been anecdotal. That's why McGuine and his collaborators did this new study. They had athletic trainers on the field record injuries as they happened during games and practices. They tracked about 1,500 players from 29 high schools in Wisconsin for an entire school year.

MCGUINE: We had reported into a database the type of injury, how it occurred, and eventually we'd get information on did they need to go to the doctor, if - did they have surgery, how long they were out from their sport. We collected all that data.

AUBREY: In total, 235 students - about 15 percent - sustained an injury that was bad enough to take them out of the game for a week. And it makes sense. Kids are putting stress on the same joints over and over again and training at a high level during years when they're still growing. McGuine's new findings bolster previous position papers issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. Both point to the potential risk of overuse injuries and burnout in student athletes who specialize. McGuine says to reduce the risk of injury, a general rule of thumb is this - each week, the number of hours a kid trains and competes should not exceed their age.

MCGUINE: So a 10-year-old should not play or practice more than 10 hours a week.

AUBREY: And for kids in high school, there's evidence that training more than 16 hours a week can increase the risk of injury. Now, back at the football practice, mom Michelle Wilson says she hopes that sports may give her younger son a shot at a scholarship.

WILSON: So for us, it's not - the opportunity isn't the football. It's using football for an opportunity we may not have been able to afford or get otherwise.

AUBREY: But she says she and her boys' coaches think a lot about injury prevention. They train off the field to vary the workouts, and they take plenty of time to rest. She says if going forward it gets too intense, she would pull them out.

WILSON: We don't pressure them. And if my boys did not like it, we would stop.

AUBREY: She says when it comes to sports, it's all about weighing the potential risks and rewards. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.


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