Newswise — Oakland, CA (December 1, 2017) – A study by UCSF Benioff's Children’s Hospitals sports medicine researchers finds that among elite NBA athletes, those who participated in multiple sports in high school had fewer injuries and longer careers, on average, than players who played only basketball in their adolescence.

The study, “The Effects of Playing Multiple High School Sports on National Basketball Association Players’ Propensity for Injury and Athletic Performance” appeared online Nov. 14, 2017, in the American Journal of Sports Medicine and analyzes the rate of injury and the length of careers of first round NBA draft picks selected between 2008-2015.

For more than a decade, there has been a trend toward athletes specializing in one sport at progressively younger ages, even with multiple medical groups advocating for delayed specialization. Single-sport specialization can be defined as intensive year-round training in a single sport at the exclusion of other sports.

A 2016 clinical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics on single-sport specialization recommended that young athletes not begin to specialize until late adolescence. Multiple studies have demonstrated the detrimental effects of single-sport specialization, including social isolation, overdependence, burnout/dropout, manipulation and increased injury risk.

In the new study, senior author Nirav K. Pandya, MD, director of the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals sports medicine program, and his UCSF colleagues set out to determine whether elite athletes who specialized in their sport at an early age were at greater risk for injuries and shorter professional careers. The study found that while a minority of professional basketball athletes participated in multiple sports in high school, those who were multisport athletes participated in more games, experienced fewer major injuries and had longer careers than those who participated in a single sport in their teen years. 

The study included 237 athletes, of whom 36 (15 percent) were multisport athletes and 201 (85 percent) were single-sport athletes in high school. The researchers found that multisport athletes played in a greater percentage of total games (78.4 percent vs. 72.8 percent), but were less likely to sustain a major injury during their career (25 percent vs. 43 percent). A greater percentage of the multisport athletes were also active in the league at time of the study, indicating increased longevity in the NBA (94 percent vs. 81.1 percent).

While these findings can be applied only to elite male basketball players, they suggest that the protective effect of being a multisport athlete in high school may persist for years into an athlete’s professional career. The study documents injury types similar to those described in other studies of NBA athletes, including knee, ankle and back injuries, and mirror previous findings showing single-sport athletes with increased injury rates and decreased longevity compared with multisport athletes.

Other contributors to the American Journal of Sports Medicine study were lead author Caitlin Rugg, MD, resident, and Brian Feeley, MD, associate professor, of the UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery; and Adarsh Kadoor of UC San Diego, who was working at UCSF during the study.

About UCSF Health

UCSF Health includes UCSF Medical Center, which is ranked among the top five hospitals nationwide, as well as UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals (in San Francisco and Oakland) and additional affiliates throughout the Bay Area. Recognized for innovative treatments, advanced technology, collaboration among health care professionals and scientists, and a highly compassionate patient care team, these hospitals serve as the academic medical center of the University of California, San Francisco, which is world-renowned for its biomedical research and graduate-level education. UCSF Health’s nationally preeminent programs include cancer, children's health, the brain and nervous system, organ transplantation, and women's health.