Multisport Female Athletes in Basketball, Soccer and Volleyball May Be Less Likely to Have Hip and Knee Injuries Than Their Peers Who Single-Sport Specialize


Newswise — DALLAS, TX – The Journal of Athletic Training, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s (NATA) scientific publication, released today Sport Specialization and Coordination Differences in Multisport Adolescent Female Basketball, Soccer, and Volleyball Athletes as part of its special thematic issue focused on youth sport specialization. With more than 30 million athletes participating either in individual or team sports, an increased emphasis has been placed on the success of youth athletes, which has increasingly pushed them to specialize. Females who sport-specialized demonstrated altered lower extremity (hips and knee) coordination relative to their multisport female athletes which may lead to less stable landings and an increased risk for injury.

Key Takeaways

  • Sport specialization in adolescents is associated with an increased incidence of lower extremity injury in high school athletes as well as increased risk of patellofemoral (knee) pain in middle and high school female basketball, soccer and volleyball athletes.
  • Females who sport-specialized demonstrated altered lower extremity coordination, which may lead to less stable landings and increased injury risk.
  • Multisport participation may facilitate improved coordination in youth female athletes.
  • Young athletes who specialize before maturation in a single sport may have limited potential for motor-skill and coordination development. Without opportunities for sport diversification during their growing years, young athletes may not fully develop neuromuscular coordination patterns that can protect against injury.
  • Due to the non-linear and sporadic growth in bone mineral and muscular and connective tissue strength that occurs before and during puberty, youth athletes may be less able to handle the physical stresses that are associated with single-sport specialization than mature or adult athletes. 

“Females who specialize early in sports such as basketball, soccer and volleyball too early in age may hinder motor development and lead to compromised hip and knee coordination during dynamic landing and jumping activities, which can lead to increased chance of potentially life-altering injuries,” said lead author and biomechanist Christopher A. DiCesare, MS, CSCS, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “By understanding the influence that sport specialization has on coordination and the potential for injuries, there is the potential to make better decisions of when it may be appropriate to safely specialize in a sport.” 

Data was collected from a total of 1,116 adolescent female basketball, soccer, and volleyball athletes. The study consisted of a three-dimensional motion-analysis assessment that included a drop–vertical-jump task. Participants were recruited mainly from local middle and high schools, but recruitment included local colleges as well.

About NATA: National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) – Health Care for Life & Sport

Athletic trainers are health care professionals who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of injuries and sport-related illnesses. They prevent and treat chronic musculoskeletal injuries from sports, physical and occupational activity, and provide immediate care for acute injuries. Athletic trainers offer a continuum of care that is unparalleled in health care. The National Athletic Trainers' Association represents and supports 45,000 members of the athletic training profession. For more information, visit www.nata.org.

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