For some time, it has been recognised that children who specialise in sports like soccer, other football codes, or tennis from an early age might develop hip deformity that can lead to early hip osteoarthritis. This deformity, known as a CAM lesion, can lead to tears in the cartilaginous labrum in the hip joint. This may require surgery, prolonged time off sport and lead to early hip arthritis. Some professional footballers have had to undergo hip replacement in their 40s – much earlier than the general population.
A recently published study measured the development of hip deformity across a group of 9-18 year old elite soccer players, comparing them to children of the same ages playing recreational club sport or only school organised sports.
The study found
higher rates of hip deformity
in those athletes playing soccer at the higher level.
What might this mean for those talented children who get selected to play in representative teams or talent squads from a young age? As sports compete for the attention of participants, they offer talent identification and special opportunities to get ahead of the pack, appealing to younger and younger players and their proud parents wanting to support them. But this also means increased training and match play, often at the expense of playing other sports, and at times loading up the player’s growing body with the risk of injury and maybe even long-term damage.
In addition to overuse injuries, early sport specialisation can lead to burnout, eating disorders and psychosocial stress. In some sports, like dance and gymnastics, peak performance can occur before complete maturation, but in most sports, early sport specialisation has not been shown to be beneficial for performance at a national or professional level.
Physical activity during adolescence and the development of cam morphology: a cross-sectional cohort study of 210 individuals. Antony Palmer et al BJSM Aug, 2017
AOSSM Early Sport Specialization Consensus Statement. La Prade et al. 2016.