Posted on Oct 25, 2022, 4 p.m.
According to a study conducted by Indiana University published in the American College of Sports Medicines’ Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, young athletes who participate in multidirectional sports like soccer or basketball rather than specializing in unidirectional sports like running can build stronger bones that may be at less risk of bone injury in adulthood.
This study examined data from Division I and II female cross country runners, who often experience bone stress injuries, and found that those who ran and participated in sports that require movement in varied directions when younger had better bone structure and strength than those who only ran, cycled or swam. These findings support young athletes playing multidirectional sports to build a more robust skeleton rather than specializing in running which could potentially prevent future bone stress injuries.
"Our data shows that playing multidirectional sports when younger versus specializing in one sport, such as running, decreased a person's bone injury risk by developing a bigger, stronger skeleton," said Stuart Warden, associate dean for research and Chancellor's Professor in the IU School of Health and Human Sciences at IUPUI. "There is a common misperception that kids need to specialize in a single sport to succeed at higher levels. However, recent data indicate that athletes who specialize at a young age are at a greater risk of an overuse injury and are less likely to progress to higher levels of competition."
High-resolution imaging was used to assess the shin bone near the ankle and bones in the feet, these are areas in runners that frequently experience bone stress injuries. According to the researchers, athletes who participated in both multidirectional sports and running when they were younger had 10-20% greater bone strength than those who only ran.
"Our research shows that the runners who played multidirectional sports when younger had stronger bones as collegiate athletes, which puts them at less risk for bone stress injuries including stress fractures," Warden said. "We want to ensure people have better, stronger bones as they grow, become adolescents and go through life. Specializing in one sport at too young of an age means they are more likely to get injured and not make it at the collegiate and professional levels."
The researchers suggest that anyone overseeing a junior athlete or team should reconsider encouraging them to focus on specializing in one area too soon, instead allow more time for proper growth and development to occur. They suggest that young athletes should not specialize until freshman year in high school, and for those already engaging in multidirectional sports it is important to take time off for rest and recovery during the year which can help to improve bone strength and performance.
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