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Overuse Injuries: The Risks of Youth Sports Specialization

Boy with arm in a sling sitting with a basketball

Should Children Specialize in Only One Sport?

They say practice makes perfect, but can too much practice be a bad thing? Many people believe it’s important to specialize in a single sport in order to excel. However, experts say that intense training and specialization at a young age can lead to higher rates of stress and injury.

What is an Overuse Injury?

Overuse injuries occur gradually when a certain activity is repeated often without allowing the body to heal. When a child participates in one sport only, he or she continuously applies stress to the same areas of the body which can lead to muscle imbalances and overuse injuries at the growth centers.

Symptoms of Overuse Injuries

It is important for coaches and parents to watch for signs of overuse injuries to keep the problem from worsening. These include:

  • Pain which often increases with activity
  • Limp
  • Decreased speed or throwing velocity
  • Swelling
  • Changes in technique or form
  • Decreased interest

Common Overuse Injuries in Youth Sports

Some examples of overuse injuries commonly seen in children include:

Overuse Injury Prevention

Many overuse injuries can be prevented with adequate rest between activities and by involving children in a variety of sports activities. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons offers the following tips to prevent overuse injuries:

  • Limit the number of teams on which your child plays to one per season.
  • Don’t allow your child to focus only on one single sport year-round. Take breaks and play other sports to develop skills and muscles.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers these additional tips:

  • Avoid specializing in one sport until late adolescence.
  • Take 1 or 2 days off a week from your preferred sport.
  • Take 3 months off per year from your primary sport of interest.

Featured Physician: Teri Metcalf McCambridge, M.D.

Dr. Teri McCambridge specializes in pediatric sports medicine and has been named Baltimore’s Top Sports Medicine Pediatrician. Dr. McCambridge provides immediate counseling and treatment for athletes with many sports-related concerns including overuse injuries.

Learn more about Dr. McCambridge>>

Additional Resources:

American Academy of Pediatrics: Sports Specialization and Intensive Training in Young Athletes
National Center for Biotechnology Information: Sports Health: Sports Specialization in Young Athletes
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Overuse Injuries in Children