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UW researchers find specialization may increase risk of injuries for high school athletes

July 31, 2017

A team of researchers from UW-Madison authored a new study that adds to the evidence that specializing in one sport may increase the risk of a range of injuries for high school athletes.

The study is titled, “A Prospective Study on the Effect of Sport Specialization on Lower Extremity Injury Rates in High School Athletes,” and it appears in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

Timothy McGuine, who earned his master’s degree from the Department of Kinesiology in 1986 and today is a senior scientist and the research coordinator for the UW Health Sports Medicine Center, is the lead author on a paper.

Co-authors include: Eric Post and Stephanie Trigsted, Ph.D. students with the Department of Kinesiology; Scott Hetzel, with the Department of Biostatistics and Medical Informatics;, Alison Brooks, an assistant professor of orthopedics, Division of Sports Medicine, at the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health; and David Bell, an assistant professor with the Department of Kinesiology’s Athletic Training Program and the director of the Wisconsin Injury in Sport Laboratory (WISL).

This latest study from the team received significant attention, with NPR speaking with McGuine about the findings.

Reports NPR: “If you're involved in high school athletics, you know the scene. There's increasing pressure to specialize in a single sport and play it year-round. The upside? Focusing on one sport can help give kids the edge they need to compete on elite club teams — or travel teams. Many athletes hope to attract the attention of college recruiters, or be offered a sports scholarship. This emphasis on competitive success has become widespread throughout the U.S., according to a consensus statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine.”

And, the downside, reports NPR?

Nosbusch_soccer09_3975“The increased emphasis on sports specialization has led to an increase in overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout, according to a 2016 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Now, comes a study, published this week in The American Journal of Sports Medicine, that adds to the evidence that specialization may increase the risk of a range of injuries for high school athletes.”

"We found that kids who had higher levels of specialization were at about a 50 percent greater risk of having an injury," McGuine tells NPR.

The injuries McGuine and his colleagues noted included ankle sprains, knee tendonitis, and stress fractures.

Check out the entire NPR report here.