May 2014

Specialization, weekly training loads contribute to risk in youth athletes

5IOC-implementation-shutterstock_104766692lrBy Jordana Bieze Foster

Sports specialization and high weekly training volumes are associated with increased risk of injury in youth athletes, according to research from Loyola University in Chicago.

Investigators compared 837 injured athletes aged between 7 and 18 years recruited from sports medicine clinics and 353 uninjured youth athletes presenting for sports physicals at primary care clinics.

Injured athletes averaged significantly more hours per week playing sports than uninjured athletes (11.3 vs 9.4 hours, respectively). Increased injury risk was associated with playing sports for more hours per week than the child’s age and playing organized sports for twice the number of hours per week as free play.

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Highly specialized athletes, in particular those who had quit all other sports to focus on just one, were most likely to have a serious overuse injury—even after adjusting for number of hours played per week. Privately insured athletes were more likely to specialize and also more likely to report a serious overuse injury.

Annual growth rates, however, did not differ significantly between the injured and uninjured groups.

“We do think there is an independent risk of sport-specific training for injury and for serious overuse injury,” said Neeru Jayanthi, MD, an associate professor of family medicine at the university, who presented the findings at the IOC conference.


Jayanthi N, Dugas L, Fischer D, et al. Risks of intense, specialized training and growth for injury in young athletes: A clinical evaluation. Br J Sports Med 2014;48(7):611.


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