In May of this year I published a three-part article, Specialization in Youth Sports, Good or Bad, where I touched on the current increase in injuries to young competitors playing sports - something that has become a hot topic in youth sports circles over the last several years.
I have also reported in other writings that there has certainly been an explosion of the number of youth sports participants over the last decade or two. This fact alone might lead one to believe that this increase in number of participants would automatically cause an upswing in the amount of young sports enthusiasts having to seek medical attention.
There just is an inherent physical risk in competitive sports that cannot be denied.
However, it does appear (even with the greater numbers participating) that the number of young athletes being injured, and the severity of those injuries, is quite large. If my memory serves me correct, I believe there were about 6 out of the 18 soccer players (or 1/3rd of the team) on my oldest daughter's club soccer team (sophomores) that had torn their ACL. And 4 of those 6 eventually went on to tear the ACL of the opposite knee as well.
These are some pretty serious injuries requiring major reconstructive surgery, something I never even heard of when I was competing in high school. I mean you did hear of the occasional male athlete blowing their knee in football, but that just did not seem to me to be as common as it is today.
Even walking the halls in the high school where I teach, I see more athletes on crutches, in casts, boots, and/or ace wraps (both male and female) than I can ever remember from my day. Sure you did see or hear about it at the professional levels of some sports, but that was expected.
The question then becomes, "Why?" I am sure there is more than one answer to this question.
First (as I mentioned in the first paragraph), the large increase in participants today compared to years past would suggest an increase in the number of injuries sustained. It is just a matter of percentages; more people equal more injuries. However, it does seem that the increased number of injuries is outpacing the increased number of participants.
More importantly, the continuous repetition of the same muscle groups doing the same thing all the time, especially when athletes specialize in one sport, can and does cause imbalances in muscle groups (around joints) if consideration is not given to proper training for this possibility.
In addition, this continued, and sometimes overabundance of, repetition, without proper recovery (rest), has many experts pointing their finger at specializing in sports at young ages as a major underlying cause of overuse injuries.
Now I do not want to leave anyone with the impression that specializing in one sport is always a "bad" thing in all situations (my feelings on both sides of this issue are detailed in that 3-part article mentioned at the beginning of this piece), just that it is a strong factor that needs to be considered when discussing the increase of youth sport injuries today.
In Part II of Brett Favre Not the Only One; The Rise in Youth Sports Injuries - Why? I will expand further on some of the reasons behind this increase in injuries to youth sports participants, along with giving direction toward possibilities that may help decrease this risk.