Protecting the Arms of Young Pitchers
Baseball is a great activity for young people because it teaches them about athletics, exercise and working as a team. It allows young ball players to learn about injury prevention through the consistent use of protective equipment and also allows them to develop an understanding of proper athletic training techniques. Parents and coaches can help with injury prevention by being aware of the early signs and symptoms of a less obvious, but very serious baseball injury, overuse injuries. Overuse injuries in baseball players usually affect their throwing arm with the shoulder and elbow being the areas most susceptible to this injury.
How do overuse injuries occur?
Normally, after you use muscles, tendons and bones to perform activity, they are slightly damaged. Over the next 24-48 hours, the body repairs the slight damage that has occurred, and does it in a way so that the injured tissues are stronger than they were before being injured. This is why with exercise you get bigger muscles and denser bones. With an overuse injury, the person returns to the activity that caused the tissue damage before their body has had enough time to repair and strengthen the injured tissues. This causes an even greater amount of damage to the tissue that will require a longer periods of time to recover. If the person continues to exercise without allowing adequate recovery time, the injury will progress as will the time needed to recover from the injury. In young people, the importance of adequate rest and proper training techniques is even more critical because their muscles, tendons and bones have not fully matured, leaving them more vulnerable to serious injuries which can require surgery to correct and lead to lifelong limitations in the injured area. For young baseball players, the two areas most likely to have overuse injuries are the elbow and shoulder. Athletes that play third base, shortstop or pitch are the ones who are at greatest risk for shoulder and elbow overuse injuries because they are usually the players who throw the most and the hardest.
Shoulder injuries in baseball players usually involve a group of muscles called the rotator cuff and elbow injuries usually occur to the tendons and ligaments on the pinky side, more properly called the medial part of the elbow. Injuries to the medial part of the elbow are so common in young ball players that they are called “Little League Elbow”. Because young ball players will often ignore the early signs of overuse syndromes, it is important for parents and coaches to always be looking for any of the following signs of arm trouble:
- Loss of movement in the elbow or shoulder.
- Elbow or should pain lasting over 24 hours after playing.
- Decreased throwing distance.
- Decreased throwing accuracy.
If shoulder or elbow overuse injuries are allowed to progress they can lead to significant damage to the growth plate in the athlete’s arm bones with consequences that can last throughout their life. If your child should experience some or all of the symptoms listed above, it is best to have a physician examine them as soon as possible. In order to combat overuse injuries, many Little Leagues have placed restrictions on the number of pitches a pitcher may throw in a game, and how often they may pitch each week.
Here are some guidelines parents and coaches can follow to prevent overuse injuries:
- Daily stretching and conditioning are needed to assure athletic fitness.
- It is crucial that young players undertake a strength training program designed for their age and ability before starting a formal throwing program.
- Coaches should be able to teach the proper body mechanics of pitching and throwing.
- Children can progress from throwing to pitching at around 8 years of age. At age 8, they should throw up to 50 pitches/game followed by 2 days of rest.
- Pitchers should not throw curve balls before they are at least 15. Learning to throw the change up is a much better choice because it is the same mechanics as a fast ball with less stress on the elbow.
- If the arm region is sore or tight, apply ice to the area for 10-15 minutes to help reduce pain, spasm and inflammation.
Baseball is a sport that kids of all ages and abilities can enjoy, and like any sport, injuries will happen. The goals of every Little Leaguer’s parents and coaches should be to prevent as many injuries as possible and minimize the damage from the injuries that do occur.
If you need the name of a physician that specializes in sports medicine, call the Good Samaritan’s physician referral line at 631-376-4444 or call Good Samaritan Outpatient Rehabilitation to schedule your appointment. 631-376-4109.
The Good Sam Outpatient Rehabilitation Facility is located at 560 Union Boulevard in West Islip, just one mile north of the hospital. We offer Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy for adults and children. We are open from 7 am until 8:30 pm Monday through Friday with morning Saturday appointments available as well. We offer evidence based treatment by dedicated therapists using state of the art equipment. Please call 631-376-4109 to find out more about our specialty programs free screens.