Study Links One-sport Athletes with Overuse Injuries

July 2019

Courtesy of Cleveland Clinic

Many young athletes are committed to being the best they can be at their favorite sport. But can too much time spent on one sport set them up for an overuse injury? According to Paul Saluan, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic, the evidence suggests that athletes who specialize in one sport are at increased risk of overuse injuries.

Many young athletes are committed to being the best they can be at their favorite sport, but can too much time spent on one sport set them up for an overuse injury? A recent study says yes. The study looked at data on 5,600 athletes under the age of 18.

Researchers found that in comparison with athletes who played the widest variety of sports, children who specialized in sports were 81 percent more likely to experience an overuse injury. Paul Saluan, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic did not take part in the research, but said overuse injury in one-sport athletes is often a result of insufficient rest.

“Sports specialization has always been associated with increased numbers of injuries,” he said. “Basically, it comes down to the fact that kids are doing too much, with too little rest time in between, and then they break down when they don’t have the ability to get the rest they need.”

Dr. Saluan said the types of injuries that these athletes are prone to suffering will vary from sport to sport and even within a single sport. For example, a baseball pitcher is more likely than a first basemen to sustain a repetition injury to the shoulder or elbow. He said there is a benefit to starting sports young, as the adaptive motions of the sport can help the athlete’s body develop to be strong in those areas.

However, Dr. Saluan said there is a point where too much of the same motion, without proper rest, can cause the body to break down, so it’s important for athletes to get proper rest when they can. He said the safest, most productive athletes are those who are able to participate in other sports throughout the year.

“When you’re considering which sports go well together, think about the body parts and think about what activities are repetitive with those body parts,” said Dr. Saluan. “For example, with swimmers, they’re beating up their shoulders; soccer players are beating up their knees, so you have to be aware of those body parts that are being overused, and then focus on other sports that aren’t abusing those same body parts on a routine basis.”

Dr. Saluan said a fear of injury should not keep kids from participating in sports. He said camaraderie, friendship, time management, and development of healthy habits are the most important skills that parents should focus on when developing a child in sports.

“Have your child play, not train,” he said. “I think training to a certain degree is reasonable, but if it takes over their life and makes the sport not enjoyable, and makes it more of a job, that
becomes an issue.”

Complete results of the study can be found in Pediatrics.

Reproduced with permission from Cleveland Clinic News Service. Originally published on
January 8, 2019