Participation in youth sports is rapidly growing and with that comes a rise in overspecialization leading to an increased risk of injury. Overspecialization is typically seen as those playing a single sport more than eight months per year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than 3.5 million kids under the age of 14 obtain medical care for sports injuries each year. Within this overuse injuries account for almost half of all middle school sports injuries. Furthermore, by age 13, 70% of kids quit playing sports due in part to the pressure from parents, coaches and adults.1
Overspecialization in youth sports is increasing as colleges are beginning to recruit athletes at a younger age, which parents often view as scholarship opportunities.2 However, the rise in single sport athletes prior to puberty is causing overuse injuries, emotional and social stress as well as burnout leading to drop out of sports at an early age. Placing additional stress on these young student athletes can lead to anxiety, withdrawing from friends and family, as well as a decrease in recreational play they previously enjoyed.6
Overuse injuries, such as tendonitis, are the number one injury in middle school sports due to the increase in intensity and the repetitive nature of single sport training.4 Stress fractures, lower extremity sprains and strains are also at the top for leading injuries in youth sports.3 More severely, concussions, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, labral trauma in the shoulder and ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injuries in the elbow also commonly affect middle school athletes.5 The Nebraska School Activities Association sites that single sport athletes are 70% more likely to suffer an in-season injury over those who play multiple sports.7
With the increase in youth sports injuries comes the need for treatment, specifically by an athletic trainer or sports medicine doctor. How do you know when to seek services from these health care professionals? Medical intervention is recommended for acute injuries when pain is persistent, swelling or locking of the joint is present, there is a visible deformity or in the presence of radiating pain. In the case of an overuse injury, medical care should be sought when pain worsens with continued activity, conventional treatments such as rest, ice, and pain medications are no longer effective and when sleep is disturbed due to pain.8
Many youth sports injuries can be avoided by allowing and encouraging young athletes to play multiple sports, especially at a young age. By exposing youth athletes to a variety of sports it has been shown to increase strength, speed, agility and decrease the risk of injury by promoting neuromuscular balance.6 Rest is also an important factor in avoiding injury in youth and adults. The Sports Fitness Injury Law Group recommends three months of rest from training and competition for full recovery as well as 1-2 days off per week during the competitive season.6 All of these factors may lead to a more enjoyable and healthy experience for young athletes for the duration, and hopefully long lasting future as a student athlete.