Research News

UW’s Bell, Brooks to analyze effects of sport specialization in high school athletes

February 03, 2015

UW-Madison's Alison Brooks and David Bell were recently awarded a grant from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) to analyze the potential problems associated with student-athletes at the high school level specializing in a single sport.

David Bell
Dr. Bell (PhD, ATC) is an assistant professor with the Departments of Kinesiology and Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, and the director of the Wisconsin Injury in Sport Laboratory. Dr. Brooks specializes in pediatric and adolescent primary care sports medicine and is an assistant professor with the Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation. She is board certified in pediatrics and fellowship-trained in sports medicine.

The project that’s being funded via AMSSM is titled, “An Analysis of Sport Specialization in the High School Setting and its Effect on Lower Extremity Biomechanics.”

In seeking support for the project, Bell and Brooks explain that “one of the hot topics in sports medicine today is sport specialization, which is so concerning that medical organizations, such as the AMSSM, have released position statements warning of this practice. Despite these warnings, anecdotal evidence suggests this advice is being ignored and that adolescents continue specializing in a single sport.”

They continue: “The results of this practice may partially explain the increase in the frequency of pediatric musculoskeletal injuries that has occurred in the past two decades. Sport specialization gets blamed for the high rates of musculoskeletal injuries, however, limited empirical evidence exists to support this idea.”

The grant, worth $20,000, will allow the investigators to survey high schools of different sizes throughout Wisconsin.

Additionally, the investigators will take a mobile biomechanical laboratory to schools to measure performance of the athletes to determine if specific biomechanical profiles are linked with specialization. Athletes will be followed during their competitive season to determine if specialization is associated with injuries sustained during the sport season. The grant will last one year.