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THE RISKS OF SPORTS SPECIALIZATION AND RAPID GROWTH IN YOUNG ATHLETES

Author(s):  Jayanthi NA, Pinkham, C, Luke, A

Affiliation
:
  Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, Illinois


Purpose

-  To determine if young athletes (<18 y/o have a greater risk for injury if they specialize in a single sport.

-   To determine if young athletes going through periods of rapid growth have a greater risk of injury.
 

Methods and Study Design:  Prospective Cohort Study.

Phase I: Young athletes (<18 y/o) who presented to sports medicine clinics for a sports-related injury were compared to healthy athletes who presented for sports physicals. All consented participants completed a baseline survey evaluating sports participation and degree of sports specialization, height, and weight. Retrospective height and weight information were obtained from electronic medical records, if available, to calculate growth rate.  Injured participants completed an injury survey regarding their training and injury and were compared to the uninjured control group for factors of interest.

Phase II:  Longitudinal follow-up measurements of height and weight, sports training changes, and new injuries will be obtained.


Results
:
 One-hundred fifty-six participants were recruited, 93 male and 63 female (ages 10-18, mean age = 13.) The groups appeared balanced at baseline, with no significant differences between injured (n=85) and uninjured cohorts (n=65) with respect to height, weight, BMI, number of sports played, and age. Two relationships trended toward significance: the injured cohort spent more hours per week playing sports (19.8 hrs/wk vs 17.0 hrs/wk, P = 0.09) and more  hours per week in organized sports (11.0 hrs/wk vs 8.8 hrs/wk, P = 0.07). The mean specialization score was higher for the injured group (injured =3.49,, uninjured = 2.75, P = 0.015). There was a significant difference between injured and uninjured groups when stratified by specialization score with 60.38% of those with injury being highly specialized (P = 0.009).  There was no difference in the mean growth rate in the uninjured cohort (4.1 cm/yr) versus the injured cohort (4.7 cm/yr), (P = 0.41).


Conclusions
More highly specialized participation in sports may be a risk for development of injury in young athletes. This effect may be influenced by training intensity, reflected in annual weekly hours of sports participation and in organized sports. There was no apparent relationship between rapid growth and development of injury in this sample using retrospective growth data. This relationship will be further and more properly evaluated during the prospective longitudinal portion of our study.

Significance of Findings
Health care providers of young athletes should advise them to exercise caution during specialized training. The true risk of sports participation during rapid growth periods has yet to be quantified.

Acknowledgements
Loyola Pediatric, Family Medicine, and Sports Medicine clinics for providing controls and injured subjects. Stefani Higgins, Department of Family Medicine, for administrative support.

Contact Courtney Pinkham at cpinkham@lumc.edu for informatin.

 

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Last Reviewed: December 17, 2007