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While the age of specialization in youth sports has created more skilled athletes entering high school, it also has caused a rash of overuse injuries. Training the same movements continuously puts a strain on a subset of muscles, tendons and ligaments without the opportunity to rest and recover. Cross-training in other sports would alleviate some of this repetition but teens are being asked to focus on one or maybe two sports, if they want to play at increasingly higher levels.
Dr. Thomas Best, a professor in OSU’s department of family medicine, sees plenty of young patients in his clinic with stress fractures, tendonitis and joint pain. He blames the growing number of hours dedicated to a sport, in some cases as many as 18 per week.
“These young people spend more time playing sports both in competition and in practice,” says Dr. Best. “So, there’s a correlation there between the amount of time that they’re playing and the increased incidence of injuries.”
Last year, he looked at data on 2,834 overuse injuries of high school athletes as reported by school athletic trainers in the High School Reporting Information Online project. The data included both males and females representing a nationwide sample of US high schools.
During the study period of 2006 to 2007 and 2011 to 2012, these overuse injuries occurred at a rate of 1.50 per 10,000 “athletic exposures” (meaning a practice or game), across 20 different sports. However, girls showed an injury rate of 1.88 versus boys at 1.26, which was statistically significant.
For an explanation of the higher rate for girls, Dr. Best commented, “During this point of their lives, this is when girls are developing bones at the greatest rate. It’s incredibly important that they’re getting the proper amounts of calcium and vitamin D.”
Specifically, girls had the most overuse injuries in track (3.82), field hockey (2.93) and lacrosse (2.73). Boys suffered the most in swimming and diving (1.3).
Best and his team found the highest rate of overuse injuries occurred in girls track (3.82), followed by girls field hockey (2.93) and girls lacrosse (2.73). Overuse injuries in boys were most found in swimming and diving (1.3). And, while overuse injuries accounted for 7.7 percent of all injuries, they caused a whopping 55.7 percent of all injuries in swimming and diving.
The remedy is still the same: Kids should play multiple sports throughout the year and also get a defined block (one to two months) of recovery time with no sports activity. Without this rotation of wear and tear, kids will eventually break down causing an extended time away. And no one wants to see that!
Dan Peterson is a recovering sports dad who is fascinated with sports science research, skill development and the athlete’s brain. He has written over 400 science-based articles across the Web and consults with parents, coaches and young players to help them understand the cognitive side of sports. Visit him at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental and at @DanielPeterson.