Injury patterns in highly specialized youth athletes: a comparison of 2 pathways to specialization

Review written by Sam Blanchard info

Key Points

  1. Distinguishing between evolved and exclusively highly specialized athletes may improve injury monitoring for the future, this study suggests that many overuse injuries may have been misclassified.
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BACKGROUND & OBJECTIVE

It is estimated that at least half of the injuries sustained by youth athletes in the United States are due to overuse. With increased external pressure on competitive success, there has become a “professionalisation” of youth sports with more intense training of a single sport at younger ages. This may put youth athletes at higher risk of injury due to lack of diversification in movement patterns and neuromuscular development.

Existing questionnaires to classify “specialization” into Low, Moderate or High have used the criteria of 1) being able to identity a main sport focus, 2) playing that sport for more than eight months of the year, and 3) quitting other sports to focus on a main sport. This may misclassify up to 30% of “highly specialized” athletes into “moderately specialized” if individuals have only ever played one sport.

This study aimed to reclassify “highly specialized” athletes into two pathways: 1) Evolved, where athletes drop other sports to focus solely on one; 2) Exclusive, where athletes have only ever played one sport.

It is estimated that at least half of the injuries sustained by youth athletes in the United States are due to overuse.
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It is important to recognize that specialization on its own is only one variable and injury risk has many modifiable and non-modifiable factors.

METHODS

  • Athletes aged 12-17 years old attending a sports medicine clinic between 2015-2019 participated in a survey about sport specialization.
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