Studies have shown that sport specialization can raise injury risk in school-age athletes. New research suggests that some sports may be more dangerous than others for kids who specialize.

The study, published in The Physician and Sportsmedicine (2017; http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00913847.2017.1313077), included 1,190 athletes aged 7–18. Of those, 313 were single-sport participants who trained for their sport more than 8 months per year. All subjects answered questions about their sports participation,
training, age, gender and injury history.

The researchers discovered that

  • single-sport athletes tended to specialize at an earlier age;
  • sports with the highest levels of specialization were tennis,
    gymnastics and dance; and
  • specialization occurred at the youngest ages in gymnastics,
    dance and soccer.

And what about sport-specific injury rates?

“Single-sport specialized athletes in individual sports accounted for a higher proportion of overuse injuries and serious overuse injuries, but a lower proportion of acute injuries compared to single-sport specialized athletes involved in team sports,” the authors said.

Lead researcher Cynthia LaBella, MD, medical director for the Institute for Sports Medicine, said the data might aid in developing better injury-prevention strategies among young athletes.

“For example, we know from previous studies that neuromuscular training may help to improve motor skills and performance while decreasing risk for injury among athletes specializing in a single sport,” she says. “Our data suggest that young athletes specializing in individual sports may reap the greatest benefits from this sort of preventive neuromuscular training.”