Increased Risk of Back Injuries In Young Athletes

Young athletes have become much more involved in sports, playing on multiple teams during a season and throughout the year.  Specializing in one sport has become more commonplace as well.  A recent study in the Journal of Sports Health featured on NPR found that in most sports, specializing in a single sport led to higher rates of back injuries, increased psychological stress, and quitting sports at a young age.  Furthermore, in most sports, such intense training was not necessary to achieve an elite level of performance in that particular sport.  

Another more recent study by the same lead author showed a 70% increased risk of children developing serious overuse injuries such as stress fractures or ligament tears when they are involved in intensive training in a single sport.  Such training can become counterproductive, as these serious injuries can sideline children anywhere from 1-6 months if not longer.  

Other interesting findings the latter study included: 

  • Young athletes were more likely to be injured if they spent more than twice as much time playing organized sports as they spent in unorganized free play — for example, playing 11 hours of organized soccer each week, and only 5 hours of free play such as pick-up games.
  • Athletes who suffered serious injuries spent an average of 21 hours per week in total physical activity (organized sports, gym and unorganized free play), including 13 hours in organized sports. By comparison, athletes who were not injured, participated in less activity – 17.6 hours per week in total physical activity, including only 9.4 hours in organized sports.