March 2017

Among high school girls, specialization makes playing sports more hazardous

In the moment: Sports medicine

By Jordana Bieze Foster

High school girls who specialize in one sport are more than twice as likely to suffer a moderate to severe injury as their multisport counterparts, according to research from San Diego State University in California.

Investigators surveyed 335 female high school athletes at baseline, then prospectively tracked the injuries sustained by those athletes during the next three sports seasons.

Athletes who specialize—which was defined as competing only in a single main sport or training for more than eight months per year in a single sport—made up 63.6% of the study population. Gymnastics, lacrosse, tennis, soccer, and swimming parti­cipants were most likely to specialize.

Moderate to severe injuries occurred 2.3 times more often in specialized athletes than nonspecialized, a statistically significant difference.

“We need to look more at number of athletic exposures and also their reasons for specialization,” said Mitchell J. Rauh, BSPT, PhD, professor and director of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the university, who presented the findings in February at the American Physical Therapy Association’s Combined Sections Meeting in San Antonio, TX.


Rauh MJ, Dillon AK, Paterno MV, et al. Relationship between sport specialization and musculoskeletal injury among competitive female high school athletes. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2017; 47(suppl 1):A49.

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