Youth sports specialization leads to injuries

While practice may make perfect, too much repetition in sports increases the chance of injuries for many youths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC says overuse injuries are responsible for nearly half of all sports injuries among middle and high school students. And the modern trend of specializing in one particular sport has caused the number of youth injuries to rise drastically: A 2013 report by the sports medicine department at Loyola University of Chicago stated that “kids are twice as likely to get hurt if they play just one sport as those who play multiple sports.”

Even when young athletes are not playing actual games, they often spend time practicing at sports camps and during private lessons. Children as young as 8 years old are choosing one particular sport, and in many cases, are playing it year-round. And the injuries have begun to mount. For one example, serious elbow and shoulder injuries among youth baseball and softball players have increased by 500 percent since 2000, according to the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine.

“I see a lot of stress in athletes about practice time and playing time,” said Robin Bousquet, a senior physical therapist at the Sports Medicine Center for Young Athletes at Children’s Hospital in Oakland, Calif. “I see a lot of stress about the pressure to perform. This has all increased 1,000 percent in the last six or seven years.”

There are many reasons for the increase of sports specialization among youths, including pressure from coaches or parents, the desire to make a team, easier travel schedules for parents, the possibility of sports scholarships in college, and the mimicry of professional athletes.

“[Young student athletes] reach such a high skill level, but they are not physically mature enough to withstand those stresses,” said Dr. Darin Padua, associate professor of exercise and sports science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Typically, the kind of things we were once seeing in older elite level athletes are now occurring in young kids.”

The most common overuse injuries among children include sever’s disease, which is inflammation in the heel bone caused by repetitive stress on the growth plate as the foot strikes the ground; jumper’s knee, inflammation and tissue damage to knee tendons caused by the repetitive contraction of the quadriceps muscle; stress fractures, small cracks that occur when muscles become fatigued and transfer the overload of impact stress to bones; and throwing injuries, inflammation and damage to immature bones in the arms caused by excessive throwing motions.

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