Youth sports specialization can increase injury risk

Youth sports specialization can increase injury risk

For youngsters who play sports, picking one to focus on can be rewarding. However, new research shows there can be a downside.

A multiyear study involving more than 10,000 children and teens found those who engage in the same rigorous activity each week are the most likely to be injured. The injuries include tendinitis, stress fractures and torn ligaments in the leg.

The findings by Brown University researchers were published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine.

Young athletes who focus on one sport tend to practice more often and more intensely than those who do not specialize. That frequency and intensity can lead to more injuries.

But the researchers also had a cautionary message: Kids who opt to not specialize might play multiple sports, which raises their overall activity level and, in turn, raises their injury risks.

They suggest that parents moderate the time young athletes spend on vigorous physical activity. If sports specialization is a priority for your child, try to replace some of their sports training with other forms of exercise such as general conditioning or yoga.

They also noted gender differences in their findings. For girls, no particular sport was especially risky, but specialization increases the risk by about 30%. Among boys, specializing in gymnastics, baseball and cheerleading heightened their injury risk.

For parents, the takeaway message is to encourage your kids to be active and to enjoy their chosen sport, but be wary of overdoing the same exercises. Also, remind them to take precautionary steps like stretching before and after playing, and stay hydrated.

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