Young athletes who train strenuously in a single sport have a new rule of thumb for their practice schedules: don’t spend more hours than your age in training during a given week.
Sports medicine researchers at the Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill, and Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago base the advice on data from 1206 athletes aged 8 to 18 years who underwent physical examinations for sports or for injuries between 2010 and 2013. Of the 859 injuries they documented, 564 were overuse injuries, of which 139 were serious—stress fractures in the back or limbs, elbow ligament injuries, and damaged cartilage and bone. These types of injuries can sideline a young athlete for 1 to 6 months or longer, the researchers noted.
Their data, presented today at the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine meeting in San Diego, show that young athletes who spent more hours than their age per week playing only 1 sport were 70% more likely to have serious overuse injuries than other types of injuries. For example, a 12-year-old who spends 13 hours a week training in a single sport is at increased risk of serious overuse injuries.
“We should be cautious about intense specialization in 1 sport before and during adolescence,” presenter Neeru Jayanthi, MD, of Loyola, said in a statement.
The data show that, compared with uninjured athletes, young athletes with injuries more often spent at least 75% of their training time in 1 sport, quit other sports to focus on a single sport, missed time with friends to train, and spent more than 8 months per year in training or competed more than 6 months per year.
Jayanthi and his colleagues are planning a follow-up study to determine whether counseling on proper sports training can reduce young athletes’ risk of overuse injuries.