A fascinating new study from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health came to the startling conclusion that high school athletes who specialize in a single sport sustain lower-body injuries at much higher rates than athletes who compete in multiple sports.
The study, which was funded by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Foundation, tracked more than 1,500 student athletes at 29 different high schools across Wisconsin in the 2015-16 school year. While the data derived from the study highlighted a number of illuminating conclusions, here was the showstopper:
“Athletes who specialized in one sport were twice as likely to report previously sustaining a lower-extremity injury while participating in sports (46%) than athletes who did not specialize (24%). In addition, specialized athletes sustained 60 percent more new lower-extremity injuries during the study than athletes who did not specialize.”
Sixty percent more new lower body injuries! That’s a stunning statistic, and one that rightfully raises concerns about overuse injuries related to particular body parts.
“While we have long believed that sport specialization by high school athletes leads to an increased risk of overuse injury, this study confirms those beliefs about the potential risks of sport specialization,” Bob Gardner, NFHS executive director, said in a release provided by the NFHS. “Coaches, parents and student-athletes need to be aware of the injury risks involved with an overemphasis in a single sport.”
One of the exacerbating factors in these injuries may be the proliferation of club programs in a variety of sports. According to the Wisconsin study’s figures, roughly 50 percent of the student athletes who specialize in a sport also compete on a club team in that sport, with some 15 percent doing so simultaneously.
So, what can we take away from this study? If nothing else, it’s ample supporting proof that sport specialization too early probably isn’t good for anyone. Now, not only does it make a student athlete less likely to reach the pros, it also may leave them at a much higher risk of teenage injury.