Risk of Injuries Associated With Sport Specialization and Intense Training Patterns in Young Athletes: A Longitudinal Clinical Case-Control Study

Neeru Jayanthi*, Stephanie Kleithermes, Lara Dugas, Jacqueline Pasulka, Sara Iqbal, Cynthia LaBella

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Background: There are no clinical longitudinal studies exploring the associations between sport specialization and intense training patterns and injuries in young athletes. Purpose: To prospectively determine the relationship between young athletes’ degree of sport specialization and their risk of injuries and reinjuries. Study Design: Case-control study; Level of evidence, 2. Methods: Young athletes aged between 7 and 18 years presenting for sports-related injuries or sports physical examinations were recruited from either sports medicine clinics or pediatric/family medicine offices. Each participant completed a baseline survey at enrollment and an identical follow-up survey every 6 months for 3 years. Surveys assessed training patterns and injuries. Injury type (acute, overuse, or serious overuse) and clinical diagnosis were also recorded from electronic medical records. Results: Of the 1208 participants who provided consent, 579 (48%) completed the baseline survey and first follow-up survey at 6 months (mean age, 14.1 ± 2.3 years; 53% female). Of this sample, 27% (158/579) of participants were uninjured, and 73% (421/579) were injured, with 29% (121/421) of injuries classified as reinjuries. Consistent with previous studies, over the 3-year study period, the degree of sport specialization had an effect such that more specialized athletes were significantly more likely to be injured (P =.03) or have an overuse injury (P =.02) compared with less specialized athletes after adjusting for potential confounders. Additionally, female athletes were more at risk for all injuries (P =.01) and overuse injuries (P =.02) after adjusting for covariates. Finally, young athletes who trained in weekly hours in excess of their age or who trained twice as many hours as their free play were significantly more likely to be injured on univariate analysis (both P <.001). Conclusion: Our study confirms that over time, young athletes, and in particular young female athletes, were more likely to be injured and sustain an overuse injury if they had a higher degree of sport specialization. Similarly, those athletes whose training hours exceeded thair age or whose sports hours exceeded their free play by a factor of greater than 2 were also more likely to develop injuries and overuse injuries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalOrthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2020


  • adolescent
  • free play
  • growth rate
  • overuse injury
  • specialization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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