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Study: Kids Who Play Only One Sport More Prone to Injury

Young people who focus on excelling at a single sport are more likely to have knee and hip injuries than those who participate in multiple sports, says a new WISL study. (SerrNovik/iStockPhoto)
Young people who focus on excelling at a single sport are more likely to have knee and hip injuries than those who participate in multiple sports, says a new WISL study. (SerrNovik/iStockPhoto)
March 23, 2016

MADISON, Wis. - Sport specialization is a hot topic in sports medicine right now, says David Bell, director of the Wisconsin Injury in Sport Laboratory on the UW-Madison campus, where a new study says young people who participate in only one sport are more prone to injury.

Bell says more young athletes today focus on excelling at one particular sport, rather than participating in a variety of sports.

He says sports medicine doctors across the nation are seeing more problems in those who specialize.

"They're seeing these surgical rates of cartilage damage in the elbow, cartilage damage in the knee, ligament damage, and that's what they're thinking is related to," says Bell. "They're thinking that these increased injury rates are related to sports specialization."

Bell says sports specialization is much more common in Wisconsin's larger high schools, while at smaller schools, kids are much more likely to participate in several sports.

The study says doctors are now seeing the kinds of injuries among young athletes that used to be found only in older athletes.

Bell says the researchers found that participating in a single sport for more than eight months a year appears to be an important factor in increased injury risk.

"If you throw for eight months and you don't give your elbow a break, if you play soccer 12 months out of the year and you don't kind of give your knees a break, you're probably more likely to have an injury," says Bell. "And that's at least what we found, from a history standpoint anyway, that these athletes were more likely to have knee and hip injuries."

Bell says it's important to get this information into the hands of young athletes, parents, and coaches.

But he says the message isn't that young people shouldn't participate in sports.

"There are different factors associated with injury and associated with risk of injury. But really, the take-home point is that you should participate in a sport if you can," says Bell. "It's a great way to get exercise, it's a great way to promote physical activity. It's a lot better than being a couch potato. But we really want to make sure that people are just doing it safely."


Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI