By Dev K. Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc
The end of summer and early fall are some of the busiest times of the year for outdoor sports participation, and unfortunately this is also the time of year with the highest number of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration there are about 20 million cloud-to-ground lightning flashes each year. The highest number occurs in southeast Florida and decreases towards the western United States. In the chart at the right, the red areas indicate a high concentration of lightning strikes and the grey areas the least.
Lightning represents a significant risk to outdoor athletes. Metal objects such as golf clubs, aluminum baseball bats, and bicycles will all attract lightning. Lightning-related deaths are the third most common among weather- related deaths and account for between 50 and 300 deaths per year in the United States.The best way to stay safe is incredibly simple: don’t be out playing if lightning is suspected.
Competitive young athletes are under increasing pressure to play only one sport allyear round. This is especially true for the best athletes who get pressure to “commit” from each coach, but such specialization could increase the risk of injuries.
A study titled “The risks of sports specialization and rapid growth in young athletes” was presented in May at the annual meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. Preliminary findings of the ongoing study included 154 athletes from all types of sports, with an average age of 13. They came to Loyola University for sports physicals or treatment of injuries. The injured athletes had a significantly higher average score on a sports specialization scale than athletes who weren’t injured.
“Young athletes who were injured tended to have more intense specialized training in one sport,” said Dr. Neeru Jayanthi, the lead investigator during his presentation. “We should be cautious about intense specialization in one sport before and during adolescence. Parents should consider enrolling their children in multiple sports.”
Sports medicine specialists have encouraged athletes to participate in multiple sports before adolescence, and this study lends further support for that idea.
The current study included 85 young athletes who were treated for sports injuries and a comparison group of 69 uninjured athletes who came to Loyola for sports physicals.
Researchers graded athletes on a six-point sports-specialization score:
– Trains more than 75 percent of the time in one sport.
– Trains to improve skill or misses time with friends.
– Has quit other sports to focus on one sport.
– Considers one sport more important than other sports.
– Regularly travels out of state for sports participation.
– Trains more than eight months a year, or competes more than six months.
On the six-point scale, the average sports-specialization score of uninjured athletes was 2.75, while the average score of injured athletes was 3.49.
The study found that 60.4 percent of the injured athletes specialized in sports, while only 31.3 percent of the uninjured athletes specialized. (Athletes who scored above 3 on the six-point scale were considered specialized.)
Uninjured athletes spent a total of 8.8 hours a week playing organized sports, while injured athletes spent 11 hours. However, this finding had a P value of 0.07, meaning that it fell just short of being considered statistically significant.
The study authors said results of the current study are preliminary. Researchers from Loyola and Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago are enrolling additional athletes, and the athletes will be evaluated every six months for three years. This research will further assess the risk of intense training during growth spurts.
So this study does not give us the absolute proof but the results when combined with practical experience from my own sports medicine practice and team physician experience leads to some take away points:
- Encourage your son or daughter to play multiple sports until they are through puberty (check with your pediatrician- this is different for each child)
- Watch them closely for signs of injury. These are typically what we’d call “overuse” injuries such as pain in the front of the knee, stress fractures, or forms of tendonitis.
- Get help early for a suspected injury. Proper treatment from a sports medicine specialist will often get your child playing effectively in a much shorter time than attempting to play through pain.
- Be especially careful of specialization in individual sports such as swimming, tennis, gymnastics, and dance. Other studies have shown higher injury risk with these sports
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