A Loyola University Medical Center study reports a link between rates of overuse injury in young athletes and their socioeconomic status. The research team is conducting an ongoing collaborative study of athletes ages 7 to 18 years who were seen at primary care and sports medicine clinics at Loyola University Health System and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. A total of 1,190 athletes have been enrolled in the study. Participating athletes completed surveys reporting things such as degree of specialization, age of engagement in competitive sports, and training volumes.

According to a Science Daily news report, both institutions care for a socioeconomically diverse population represented in the study. The median income of the families of the young athletes was approximately $70,000; approximately 11% came from low-income neighborhoods, while 19% are on public aid. The research team found that 30% of privately insured athletes were highly specialized in one sport. Also, 13% of the privately insured athletes suffered overuse injuries compared with 8% of publicly insured athletes.

The results of the study show that the rate of serious overuse injuries in athletes who come from families that can afford private insurance was 68% higher than the rate in lower income athletes who are public insurance. The study also revealed that privately insured young athletes are twice as likely as publicly insured athletes to be highly specialized in one sport. Neeru Jayanthi, MD, states, “Intense specialization in one sport can cost thousands of dollars a year in equipment, fees, transportation, private lessons, etc.”

Jayanthi adds, “Having the financial resources to afford such costs may provide increased opportunities for young athletes to participate in a single sport.” From the results of the research, researchers believe that not restricting unstructured free play may help be protective against serious overuse injuries.

Overall, co-investigator of the study Lara Dugas, PhD, MPH, says, “Young athletes with this type of training appear to be at greater risk for serious overuse injuries than those who have fewer financial resources.”

Sources: Science Daily, Loyola University Health System