Sports Specialization in Children

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Kids playing soccer

Can playing one specific sport at a young age lead to children being more vulnerable to injuries?

When you specialize in a sport, your body is at risk for overuse injuries. Young children have maturing and growing bones as it is, which means their growth plates are weak, making them susceptible to injuries caused by overuse. When a child dedicates their time to one specific sport, they are continuously repeating the same bodily motion. For example, if a child at the age of 8 pursues baseball and decides to follow through with it in high school, their body is constantly doing the same action and this can lead to injuries of overuse such as rotator cuff pain. Dr. Winston Gwathmey, an orthopedic surgeon in the University of Virginia’s sports medicine division, claims that kids who specialize in a single sport may see repetitive “micro-trauma” from performing the same activity over and over again. That’s basically overuse. It’s not an acute injury; it’s an injury that accumulates over time.

So, you must be wondering: what sports are often known to cause overuse injuries? According to Dr. Winston Gwathmey, baseball, running, tennis and gymnastics seem to be some of the sports that kids suffer injuries from. With distance running, kids often get stress related injuries because they run to the point that their bones start to become susceptible to stress fractures. Kids who often excel in their specific sport, tend to practice all year round. This causes the kids to have no “off season” and their bodies just continue executing the same repetitive motion which is causing stress to build up on the child’s joints. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent overuse injuries!

Dr. Winston Gwathmey recommends to parents of young athletes, “that kids play multiple sports. If you think about any motion or activity – if you do it repetitively enough, it’s going to tend to fatigue the muscles and burns the energy that is supporting that activity. The bones will also see stress with repetitive activity.” This means that kids should be open to playing different types of sports to prevent the body from doing the same exact action for long periods of time. I myself am a young teen and I do long distance running. I often attempt to factor different methods of exercise into my daily routine to avoid overuse injuries such as shin splints (visit our website and/or Facebook to learn more about shin splints). I also take the proper amount of time off from running after the season is over. This allows my body to rest from the repetitive stress it has been undergoing from long distance running. By working different activities into children’s lives, we can prevent overuse injuries and overall boost our athletic performance.

-Rosemary Bautista, 2019 CPO Intern

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