Time for Practice, Time for Play

Fewer injuries occurred among athletes who had unstructured play time

(RxWiki News) Playing is not just for the kids. Young athletes can benefit from messing around on the court and field, too.

Good old fashioned, unplanned time to just play may help young athletes avoid getting injured, according to new research presented at a conference.

Though review of the results are still in the beginning stages and need further assessment, the findings may help show which athletes are more at risk for injury and what training methods are riskier, researchers said.

"Make time for play time."

The study, led by Neeru Jayanthi, MD, an associate professor at Loyola Medicine, looked at the training patterns of 891 injured and uninjured young athletes, 14 percent of whom played tennis.

Almost 70 percent of all the athletes, who averaged between 13 and 14 years of age, sought treatment at Loyola University Health System and Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago for sports injuries attained during both practice and play. The rest of the athletes were seeking standard physical examinations for their sports.

Researchers surveyed athletes on the number of hours they spent each week in organized play, at the gym and engaging in free play without structure. They also tracked what kind of injury each athlete had as well as how it occurred.

Injured athletes spent about an hour extra each week playing their sport, including working out at the gym, than uninjured athletes.

Specifically, injured tennis players spent almost one and a half more hours playing in organized sports compared to uninjured tennis players.

About 88 percent of the tennis players who only played tennis were injured, compared to about 73 percent who played tennis and other sports, researchers found.

Among single-sport tennis players, those who were injured spent more than 12 and a half hours each week playing organized tennis and only 2.4 hours per week in free play and recreation.

At the same time, uninjured tennis players spent 9.7 hours per week playing organized sports and 4.3 hours a week in free play and recreation.

Though the total hours on the court were similar between groups, the injured tennis players spent five times as long playing organized tennis as they did for recreation, while the uninjured players spent only 2.6 times as long playing organized tennis as they did for fun.

The authors noted that the findings might not apply to other sports since they focused primarily on tennis. They also did not specify whether injuries were from high or low risk causes, which may skew results.

The findings were presented December 15 and 16 at the Tennis Medicine & Injury Prevention Conference by the Society for Tennis Medicine and Science and the United States Tennis Association in Atlanta.

Review Date: 
January 16, 2013