Injuries in Youth Baseball: An Orthopedic Surgeon’s Recommendations
When your child falls in love with a sport, it can be difficult to step up to the plate and interfere. But sometimes as a parent, you have to play hardball.
Overuse injuries are common when a young athlete chooses to specialize in one sport, but baseball has significantly higher rates of injury in young players. Nationwide, there are thousands of baseball-related injuries each year, mostly related to the elbow and shoulder, linked directly to overuse injuries. While it may be a fun, competitive sport for up-and-coming players, baseball at a young age can put extra strain on bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. These athletes need to play at an appropriate age and skill level (such as coach pitch, team pitch, kid pitch), and are usually placed through tryouts and by age.
If a young baseball athlete throws too much, too often or too hard, and doesn’t take the proper rest, they are at risk of injury down the line. As a sports medicine and shoulder/elbow surgeon, I see and treat a vast variety of acute and chronic issues in athletes of all ages. Here are some of my best tips for keeping young baseball players injury-free:
Get a pre-participation physical/evaluation.
For organized sports of any kind, a physical or evaluation before beginning the season is a must and is often required by youth leagues. These exams are usually pediatrician-based but can be from an orthopedic doctor. They will ensure that the child has good general health for sports participation before they even get started.
Practice appropriate stretches and warm-ups before play.
Don’t let your child jump out of the car and run straight into playing. Make sure players are throwing (but not too hard) before practice starts. Take time to take swings off a tee or a batting cage before getting into play. Baseball players should also make sure they are performing proper upper and lower body stretches prior to practice or play.
When your child falls in love with one particular sport in can be difficult to encourage variety. The rates of overuse injury in specialized baseball players are higher than in other sports due to the forces placed on the arms of throwing athletes. Ideally a still-growing young athlete should play multiple sports but if baseball is the only focus, they should have time off between seasons. Time off can be playing basketball, focusing on conditioning, swimming, or not doing anything at all (a period of six weeks is ideal). Above all they should rest and refrain from throwing.
Know when to see an MD.
Youth baseball often doesn’t have medical personnel present at games so it’s important to gauge when to take a child in to a medical professional for a baseball-related injury. Rest from the activity that caused the pain is the first step and is often effective in resolving the pain. Injuries can also be treated with ice, but if pain doesn’t improve within a few days it’s time to see a doctor. If there is significant swelling with the initial injury, a loud pop, deformity, progressive symptoms or the player is unable to bear weight they should get to a medical provider as soon as possible.
Get familiar with other resources.
Besides your doctor, the STOP Sports Injuries website is a valuable resource for parents when it comes to baseball and overuse injuries. There is a specific baseball injury prevention page that breaks things down into prevention and treatment, how to treat specific injuries, and more technical numbers like maximum pitch counts and age recommendations for various pitches.