Mar. 23 -- THURSDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Many children today start specializing in one sport early -- playing year-round, joining competitive club or travel teams and participating in special training programs -- believing they'll put themselves on the fast track to college scholarships or maybe even a pro sports career.
But for too many of these kids, that fast track leads straight to injuries, sometimes serious ones.
Recent research suggests that as many as four in 10 emergency room visits for children between 5 and 14 years old are for sports-related injuries.
No single sport is specifically to blame for the increase in kids' sports injuries. Instead, experts suspect that choosing to play one sport all the time, or playing several sports all at once, are factors leading to what are called overuse injuries.
"Any sport can produce an overuse injury," explained Dr. Cynthia LaBella, medical director of the Institute for Sports Medicine at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "Overuse injuries are increasing for a couple of reasons. Sports are much more competitive at an earlier age, and many children are playing one sport year-round now. They're not getting enough time off for their bodies to recover. Or, they might be playing three sports at once, and what that amounts to is that they never get a day off."
While parents may counter that they were constantly active throughout their own childhoods and didn't suffer serious injuries, LaBella pointed out that youngsters used to be the masters of their own activity.
"Kids are now subject to adult schedules and organizational formats for adult-driven sports. In the past, kids directed the activities in the backyard. Where adults provide schedule and structure, kids may be pushed beyond what they would do on their own. When they play on their own, they take breaks and moderate themselves," she said.
Dr. Michael Kelly, chairman of the department of orthopaedic surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, said that while it's a lot healthier for the body to "cross train" with different sports, many kids today focus on just one sport.