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Study: Specializing in a sport early could lead to injuries

COMMERCIAL IMAGE -  COMMERCIAL IMAGE -  Kids from Boys   Girls Club Americscrimmage during he Samsung-ChelseFC Youth

COMMERCIAL IMAGE - COMMERCIAL IMAGE - Kids from the Boys & Girls Club of America scrimmage during he Samsung-Chelsea FC Youth Football Camp at Starfire Sports Complex on Tuesday, July 17, 2012 in Seattle. Samsung and Chelsea FC are teaming up to bring seven days of youth soccer camps during the team’s tour of the United States this summer.(Photo by Stephen Brashear/Invision for Samsung Electronics America/AP Images)

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Updated: May 22, 2013 6:46AM



Young athletes can avoid serious injuries by not specializing in one sport until they are older, a Loyola University Medical study suggests.

Young athletes who specialized in one sport and trained intensively increased their risk for having a serious injury, such as stress fractures, researchers found.

Loyola University Medical Center sports medicine physician Dr. Neeru Jayanthi presented findings during an oral podium research session Friday at the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) meeting in San Diego. The findings are considered preliminary because they haven’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal, though they fall in line with similar, smaller studies.

Between 2010 and 2013, Jayanthi and colleagues at Loyola and Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago enrolled 1,206 athletes ages 8-18 who had either come in for sports physicals or treatment for injuries. Different types of sports were looked at, Jayanthi said.

There were a total of more than 850 injuries, including more than 550 overuse injuries. Overuse injuries included stress fractures — when tiny cracks are in the bone — in the back and limbs, elbow ligament and injuries to cartilage and underlying bone.

Such injuries can keep athletes from playing for one to six months or longer.

Athletes who suffered serious overuse injuries spent an average of 21 hours per week doing physical activity, including 13 hours in organized sports. Athletes who were not injured spent an average of about 18 hours per week doing physical activity, including only about nine hours in organized sports.

Originally, it was thought that the issue with specialization was more hours spent practicing.

But Jayanthi said, “Just the fact that you chose to only do one sport and do that the entire time is in and of itself a risk. And that’s simply by using the same muscle groups and stressing the same parts of the body over and over again with no breaking.”

But he stressed that was only true for kids, not older people, because children and adolescents are still growing.

Jayanthi’s tips for preventing youth athletes’ injuries include not specializing in one sport until late adolescence, and not spending more than twice as much time playing organized sports as you spend in a gym or unorganized play.



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