Youth Baseball Injuries Can Be Prevented
Soon we will be hearing “Play ball,” and we will know it’s time for baseball again. Youth baseball is part of that call, and includes Little League and other youth baseball teams. But experts are warning that the number of injuries are rising among young players, and can send many of them to the sidelines temporarily or permanently. Such injuries can, however, be prevented.
Millions of boys and girls play on organized baseball teams around the United States and the world. According to Little League Online, in 2009 there were 7,170 baseball and softball leagues in the world, with more than 2.1 million baseball and 349,000 softball players. Although some injuries can be expected, many can be prevented as well, which was an issue discussed by experts at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 2010 annual meeting.
Three studies presented at the meeting focused on throwing injuries. Charles Metzger, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon in Houston, conducted a study of more than 1,200 youth baseball players and reported that 97 percent of players who performed a posterior capsular stretch experienced significant improvement in their shoulders.
This five-minute stretch, says Dr. Metzger, is important for pitchers and catchers younger than age 15, who often have tightness in the posterior-inferior glenohumeral ligment which, if not stretched, will tighten and make players more likely to get injured and experience pain if they continue to play baseball. Information on how to perform the stretch can be seen at www.safethrow.com.
In another study, researchers found that 25 percent of youth baseball players experience elbow pain, nearly 15 percent have tears or fractures in the cartilage and underlying bone (osteochondreal lesions) that cover the elbow joint, and pitchers are the players most likely to experience these elbow injuries.
The elbow study, led by Tetsuya Matsuura, MD, of The University of Tokushima Graduate School in Japan, evaluated 152 youth baseball players (ages 8 to 12) during one baseball season. None of the players had a history of elbow problems or pain at the beginning of the study. Dr. Matsuura noted that overuse injuries such as osteochondreal lesions can be prevented with increased awareness and education among coaches, parents, and players, and that prompt treatment can ward off long-term or permanent damage.
In yet another study, George A. Paletta, Jr., MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Orthopedic Center of St. Louis and also Medical Director/Head Team Physician of the St. Louis Cardinals, noted that elbow injuries are preventable if youth baseball throwing guidelines are followed.
Dr. Paletta emphasized that young baseball players should never continue to throw pitches when they are in pain or when they are fatigued. He also urged parents to become familiar with the recommended pitch counts (number of pitches a child can safely throw during a game, week, or season), length of time off between games, and recommended ages for children to learn different pitches.
When parents and friends flock to the bleachers to watch boys and girls participate in youth baseball games, injuries are the last thing they want to see. Attention to preventive measures, including stretching and familiarity with and adherence to safety guidelines for youth baseball, can make it a safer, healthier game.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Little League Online