Increase in 'single sporting' young athletes leads to more injuries

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (KTVU) -- The term "single sporting" refers to when young athletes decide to forgo all other sports in an effort to try to excel at a particular one. While traditionally that happens with teens, now it's happening with athletes in elementary school.

"They aren't playing multiple sports and they aren't involving themselves in other activities," said Dr. Nirav Pandya of the Sports Medicine Center for Young Athletes. "And that's where we get in trouble. I think 30 million kids are participating in year round club sports I think at least one third year of those will present with a serious injury at some point."

The Sports Medicine Center for young athletes is part of UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital and is the only facility of its kind in Northern California. It focuses just on young athletes and they have plenty of patients.

"This is a state of the art clinic," said Clinical Director Michelle Cappello. "Knee pain is our number one complaint; baseball and soccer players predominantly."

For some people like 17-year-old soccer player Cameron Chan rehab can be a long road.

"I hurt my ankle four months ago and it was really hard," Chan explained. "I actually didn't walk for three months."

When we caught up with Chan, she was using an anti-gravity machine to help her learn how to run again. The technology originally designed for NASA helps take weight off her ankle while she runs on a treadmill.

"We can get athletes back quicker in a gravity reduced environment," explains physical therapist assistant Jamie Faison. "We've actually taken away 40 percent of her body weight, so now she can run like a soccer player and actually work on fast type movements with less impact."

Chan said she focuses all of her attention on soccer.

"Just soccer; I'm all about it" she admitted.

It's the same story for teen Liv Baker, but instead of soccer it's swimming. She talks with pride about her dedication to the sport.

"I'm a swimmer and I swim all year round," said Baker.

The only problem is now her back is hurting in and out of the pool.

Both Baker and Chan are doing rehab but there are also young athletes at the center who aren't hurt. They are there for prevention.

The center is talking with sports teams to get their athletes in for prevention analysis and programs. They us a motion analysis center where they can look at how they athlete jumps, and runs to see if they may be prone to injury.

"We're using infrared cameras," says Clinical Director Michelle Cappello, "we're using force plates were using 2d which is the visual cameras. This is a state of the art clinic."

The center says the average age of their injured patients is 14 and the numbers keep growing, in part because kids are active and are bound to get hurt sometimes.

Pandya says multiple injuries can be a red flag.

"When kids are coming in for their second or third surgery by the time they are 16 or 17 or if they aren't enjoying it," said Pandya.

He says while kids often say "there's no time to do anything else," there's someone else that's harder to convince. It's the "parents absolutely" says Dr. Pandya.

So part of what the center does is education. Capello says the young athletes are specializing too soon.

"They are doing these studies that you really should not specialize until you are 13 and 14 years old and kids are specializing as young as 8 or 9," explained Capello.

David Arakawa, the management director says it's important to remember slowing down doesn't mean sitting down.

"Just go out and play and do some other activities that don't revolve around what your particular sport it," Arakawa said.

Every Olympic training program "has recovery built in," said Capello. According to her, if elite athletes can take a break and still succeed, so can our kids.