Mix It Up: ONS Discusses Sports Specialization In Young Athletes

GREENWICH, Conn. -- In today’s competitive sports environment, children and teens are under more pressure than ever to train harder and longer to excel in their sport. The result, according to Dr. Demetris Delos of Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists, often includes debilitating consequences.

Dr. Demetris Delos of ONS.
Dr. Demetris Delos of ONS. Photo Credit: ONS

“The greatest shift in youth sports in the last generation has been the trend toward sports specialization and year-round training," said Delos, a sports medicine specialist who sees patients at the ONS offices in Greenwich, Stamford and Harrison. "Unfortunately, this has also led to a surge of sport specific injuries.”

Specifically, Delos said he has seen an alarming rise in the number of student athletes who have experienced overuse injuries in the shoulders and knees, damage to growth plates and stress fractures. “Some of these injuries are severe enough to cause problems for these athletes later in life,” he said.

Contrary to popular belief, there is growing evidence that early specialization may actually be counterproductive to youth development. According to Delos, numerous studies have shown that exposure to a range of different sports that utilize different muscle groups leads to greater overall athleticism, with less risk of burnout and injury.

In fact, a recent study at the Departments of Kinesiology, Orthopedics and Rehabilitation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that high school athletes who trained in one sport for more than eight months were more likely to report a history of overuse knee and hip injuries than those who had played a variety of sports throughout the year.

Sport-specific overuse injuries typically develop slowly over time, starting with something as mild as a twinge before progressing into relentless pain. If addressed in the early stages, overuse injuries are relatively easy to treat with a period of rest and activity modification. Unfortunately, many athletes, coaches and even parents can become too invested to let an injury interrupt play. Left untreated, overuse injuries can sometimes lead to chronic pain and more substantial injuries, which can require a lengthier rehabilitation and sometimes surgery.

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