Study shows basketball is better for building stronger bones in kids than track and field

BLOOMINGTON, Indiana– Cross country is good, but tires are great? Youth athletes who play multidirectional sports like basketball instead of unidirectional sports like track and field may build stronger bones that reduce their risk of bone injuries in adulthood, a new study suggests, a new study suggests.

The results are consistent with other recommendations, which say that younger children should play a variety of sports that require them to move in different directions and then wait until they are older to switch to a sport that requires them to move they want to focus. By then, they’re more likely to have a stronger structural foundation that supports a lower risk of stress injuries.

“There is a common misconception that children need to specialize in a single sport in order to be successful at a higher level. However, recent data shows that athletes who specialize at a young age are at greater risk of overuse injury and less likely to advance to higher levels of competition,” said Stuart Warden, associate dean for research and chancellor’s professor at Indiana University School of Health and Human Sciences, in a statement.

Bone health research has historically focused solely on bone mass to best determine skeletal health over the course of a person’s life. More recently, studies have shown that how much bone someone has as they age matters, but the size of them is just as important.

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

Wächter and colleagues encourage youth sports coaches, parents, coaches and other involved adults to consider not putting children into a sport at an early age. Often this feeling that children need to specialize sooner rather than later stems from making sure the child has a thorough education for professional sports.

The team agrees that this could end up doing more harm than good, potentially making it more difficult for children and young people to remain in sufficient physical condition to engage in more competitive sports later on. Additionally, they firmly believe that all athletes, regardless of the sport they play, should prioritize rest to maintain bone strength and optimal performance.

“We want to make sure people have better and stronger bones as they grow, grow and go through life. If they specialize in a sport at too young an age, they’re more likely to get injured and fail at the collegiate and professional levels,” concludes Warden.

The results are published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise.