[The study] found that young athletes who spent more hours per week than their age playing one sport – such as a 12-year-old who plays tennis 13 or more hours a week – were 70 percent more likely to get serious overuse injuries of the back, shoulder or elbow, than other injuries.
"We should be cautious about intense specialization in one sport before and during adolescence," Loyola sports medicine physician Dr. Neeru Jayanthi said. He presented his study on Friday at the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) meeting in San Diego.
"Young athletes should not spend more hours per week in organized sports than their ages," he said.
Between 2010 and 2013, Jayanthi and colleagues at Loyola and Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago enrolled 1,206 athletes ages 8 to 18, who had physicals or treatment for injuries.
There were 859 total injuries, including 564 overuse injuries, of which 139 were serious stress fractures in the back or limbs, elbow ligament injuries and osteochondral injuries to cartilage and underlying bone.
Dan Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University hailed the study as providing data on the dangers of pressing children to succeed earlier at a particular sport.
"It's not bad for a kid to start a recreational sport at four, but specializing? We are seeing more 'Little League pitching elbow' from repeated exposure," he said, referring to a common injury in young pitchers trying to throw faster fastballs and curveballs that can distort the arm muscles and joints.
Image: Kids playing baseball, via Shutterstock