AAOS: Early Single Sports Specialization

April 4th, 2017

At this year’s American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons meeting in San Diego, Rothman Orthopaedic Institute’s Chief of Sports Medicine, Dr. Michael Ciccotti, presented one of the most impactful studies of the conference on Early Single Sports Specialization. The study was one of the most popular at the event resulting in media coverage around the world.

We caught up with Dr. Ciccotti for a Q&A about this latest research.

Dr. Ciccotti, briefly describe the study?

Michael Ciccotti, M.D.: We surveyed 3,090 high school, collegiate, and professional athletes regarding their perspectives on single sport specialization. Surveys were sent asking if they had chosen to specialize in only one sport, when they chose to specialize and if they had incurred a sport related injury. 

What did you find?

MC: We found that current high school athletes decided to specialize in one sport more often than current collegiate and professional athletes and at a statistically earlier age. We also noted that the high school group reported a statistically higher incidence of sports-related injury than the professional group. We hypothesize that the trend to earlier single sport specialization may be a factor in the occurrence of overuse injuries. Interestingly, a large percentage of the professional athletes we polled also said they would not want their own children to specialize in one sport during their childhood/adolescent years.

What is next?

MC: We need to continue to survey these patient populations on a larger scale. The high school athletes we surveyed specialized to a single sport a full two years earlier than their collegiate and professional counterparts. This runs counter to the idea that advancement to or success at a collegiate/professional level requires earlier sports specialization for young athletes.

How does this type of study affect your interaction with your patients at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute?

MC: My colleagues and I at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute see thousands of youth sports athletes every year. Studies like this provide us with truly meaningful information to pass on to these athletes, their parents and coaches. We always want to do what is right for our patients regardless of age. This study leads to further discussions, decisions, and treatment options that while hard at the time, might prevent future injury in these young athletes. We plan on continuing our research in order to better define the possible risks of early single sport specialization.

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