Basketball better for building stronger bones in children than track, study shows

BLOOMINGTON, Indiana– Cross country is good, but hoops are great? According to a new study, youth athletes who play multidirectional sports like basketball, instead of unidirectional sports like track, are able to build stronger bones that decrease their risk of bone injury in adulthood, suggests a new study.

The findings are line with other recommendations that say that younger children should play a variety of sports that require them to move in various directions, then wait until they’re older to switch to a sport that they want to hone in on. By then they’re more likely to have a stronger structural foundation, which supports less risk of stress injury.

“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,” says Stuart Warden, associate dean for research and Chancellor’s Professor in the Indiana University School of Health and Human Sciences, in a statement.

Bone health research in the past has mainly just looked at bone mass to best determine skeletal health through the duration of someone’s life. More recently, studies have showed that with age, how much bone someone has matters yet size of them does just as much.

In this study, Warden and team used high-resolution imaging to assess the shin bone by the ankle and bones in the feet where bone stress injuries often are found in runners. They discovered that athletes who did running as well as multidirectional sports had 10-20% stronger bones than those who just ran.

Warden and colleagues encourage youth athletic coaches, parents, trainers, and other involved adults to consider holding off on putting children in one sport early on. Often this feeling of a need for kids to specialize sooner rather than later stems from making sure that the child has extensive training for professional sports.

The team agrees that this could end up doing more harm than good, potentially making it difficult for kids and adolescents to stay in good enough physical health for more competitive sports later on. Additionally, they firmly believe that all athletes, regardless of sports played, should prioritize rest to maintain bone strength and optimal performance.

“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,” concludes Warden.

The findings are published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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