Study: Athletes who focus on 1 sport more prone to injury

Multi-sport athletes are less likely to deal with lower-extremity injuries than those that participate in a single sport.

A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health by and funded by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Foundation recently revealed this information.

The study, which was conducted through the 2015-16 school year by Timothy McGuine, Ph.D., ATC,, was at 29 high school in Wisconsin involving 1,500 athletes equally divided between boys and girls.

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According to the NFHS press release, “Athletes who specialized in one sport were twice as likely to report previously sustaining a lower-extremity injury while participating in sports (46 percent) than athletes who did not specialize (24 percent).

For Seymour High School certified athletic trainers Kyle Coates, of Schneck Medical center, the study solidified prior thinking.

“I think it confirmed a lot of stuff that we’ve thought over the years,” Coates said. “Kids that are single-sport athletes are playing year-round without breaks, going through the same movement patterns. We have some real numbers now to back that up.”

Coates said that lateral and linear movements make a difference between single-sport and multisport athletes.

Lower-extremity injuries were defined as any acute, gradual, recurrent or repetitive-use injury to the lower musculoskeletal system.

Specialized athletes sustained 60 percent more new lower-extremity injuries during the study than athletes who did not specialize, the report said.

A total of 34 percent of the student-athletes involved in the Wisconsin study specialized in one sport, with females (41 percent) more likely to specialize than males (28 percent).

Among those student-athletes in this group who sustained new lower-extremity injuries during the year, 27 percent were athletes who specialized.

In addition, specialized athletes were twice as likely to sustain a repetitive-use injury than athletes who did not specialize, and those who specialized were more likely to sustain an injury even when controlling for gender, grade, previous injury status and sport, according to the report.

Trainer Sarah Bevers, who works with Crothersville, Medora and Trinity Lutheran, said some of the results in the study surprised her.

“I think I was a little more surprised that they found more acute injury than overuse injury,” Bevers said. “It was interesting you see more ligament sprains then, say, tendonitis.”

Bevers said that at the smaller schools, more athletes participate in multiple sports due to the lack in numbers.

Soccer had the highest level of specialization for both males (45 percent) and females (49 percent).

After soccer, the rate of specialization for females was highest for softball (45 percent), volleyball (43 percent) and basketball (37 percent).

The top specialization sports for males after soccer were basketball (37 percent), tennis (33 percent) and wrestling (29 percent).

The areas of the body most injured were ankle (43 percent) and knee (23 percent) while the most common type of previous injuries were ligament sprains (51 percent) and muscle/tendon strains (20 percent).

Near 50 percent of the student-athletes involved in the survey indicated they participated on a club team outside of school, and 15 percent of those individuals did so while simultaneously competing in a different sport within the school.

Seventeen percent of the student-athletes indicated that they took part in 60 or more primary sport competitions (school and club combined) in a single year.

At Brownstown Central, trainer Devin Harvey is leading a program to prevent ankle injury.

“Next year, we’re hoping to see a change,” Harvey said. “We started a little late this year, but we want it to be a focus in the preseason. It will entail flexibility, strength and balance.”

All three trainers agreed that taking necessary rest and playing a variety of sports can help prevent injury.