MADISON, Wis. - The first comprehensive study of lower extremity body injuries in high school athletes shows those who specialize in one sport are at a much higher risk of injury.
The study was conducted by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
It was funded by the National Federation of High Schools.
The study looked into the history of injuries of nearly 1,100 male and female high school athletes in 26 different high schools in Wisconsin.
The athletes participated in a variety of sports including ice hockey, basketball, football, wrestling, volleyball and soccer.
"We found overall slightly less than 40 percent specialized in a sport, meaning they really concentrated on that one sport. They may play in multiple sports, but concentrated on one," says Tim McGuine, senior scientist at UW School of Medicine and Public Health and author of the study's findings.
When the study compared the history of lower body injuries they discovered the high school athletes specializing in one sport are at three times the risk of injury.
"We saw this tremendous pattern of kids that, if they were playing a single sport or specializing in a sport and really focusing on one sport to a great extent over others, they had a lot more injuries than the kids that didn't. They had more surgeries, missed more time from their sport, so even in an attempt to get better they were missing more time from their sport and having more injuries," says McGuine.
The study focused on injuries that occurred from the hip down on an athlete.
It included injuries to the hip, pelvis, knee, ankle, ligaments, tendons and bone fractures.
While the finding reveals the increased risk of injury, they also raise concerns over future health issues for the individuals.
"It is important to know because anything that increases the risk of injury obviously has problems. It is not just directed to the athlete, the pain and suffering. We know there are long terms implications. We know if you have a knee injury at an early age and have surgeries at an early age you are more likely to have arthritis later in life," says McGuine.
The reason for increased risk of lower body injury for the specialized athlete is believed to be linked to repeated motion.
"The theory is that if we do the same thing over and over again we're going to stress that body part. To the extent some people will adapt and do it, some people are not," says McGuine.
McGuine says the findings can be helpful to parents, coaches and health care providers.
"I'm not trying to ban anything. I just think parents should be aware of it if they are asked, or forced, or coerced or even encouraged to focus year round on a single sport, there are greater risks for injuries because of that."
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