Study finds one-sport specialization leads to injury

Last month, the National Federation of High School Associations released the results of a study conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin measuring injury rates for student-athletes in conjunction with sport specialization.

The study found that athletes specializing in one sport—and especially those who train for that sport year-round—are 70 percent more likely to sustain a lower extremity injury, as they are putting undue stress on a concentrated group of muscles, bones and ligaments.

Muscle and ligament sprains were found to be the most common lower-extremity injury among student-athletes, most commonly reported in the ankle or knee. Sprains accounted for 59.4 percent of injuries reported in the study.

Researchers looked at the “rate of specialization” among 1,544 athletes, measuring how much time was taken away from friends, family and participation in other activities in order to concentrate on one primary sport.

They found that 41 percent of female student-athletes reported specializing, while 28 percent of male student-athletes reported the same. Among soccer players, which the study found to be the most common primary sport, 50 percent of both male and female athletes reported specializing.

Tim McGuire, a sports medicine researcher at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health says that year-round training can also raise the risk of injury, if only because of increased exposure to high-risk situations.

William Roberts, professor of family medicine at the University of Minnesota, agreed with McGuire, telling The Washington Post, “The more you play at any given activity, the more likely you are to get hurt, just out of exposure. If you play club and high school sports, you play 10 to 12 months of the year; that might be an exposure issue. For kids who play club and high school at the same time, it might be a fatigue issue.”

Roberts and McGuire’s best advice to young athletes is to play multiple sports, but to train for them one-at-a-time.