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Injuries on the rise in youth baseball

Published: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 12:51 p.m. CDT

DeKALB –  Research shows the number of injuries in adolescent athletes is increasing for a variety of reasons. Injuries to the shoulder, elbow and wrist are most common for the adolescent throwing athlete, according to specialists at Northern Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine. Most of these conditions are minor and respond to rest.

Year-round baseball, with too many pitches and not enough rest, plus the inherent physical weakness of growing bodies, creates the perfect situation for injury. Only 63 percent of coaches actually count pitches, even though pitches and innings are restricted. Many injuries are related to repetitive motions or overuse stress, and can lead to a more serious injury if not treated in a timely fashion.

Fifty to 75 percent of youth baseball players report elbow pain at some point. “Little League elbow” is mainly related to injury to the elbow’s growth plates. Growing athletes are susceptible to unique elbow injuries as a result of stressing the joint too much with frequency or poor technique. Symptoms of elbow injury include poor or decreased throwing performance, pain and swelling in the elbow, and difficulty straightening the joint, with tenderness to the inside of the elbow.

Shoulder injuries may include labral tears, bursitis, tendonitis, rotator cuff tears or bicep tendon injuries. These symptoms can resolve with rest, ice, rehabilitation, and, in some cases, surgery.

Prevention is key to avoiding injury. Training with proper technique is important, as is limiting the number of pitches per week. Multiply the player’s age by 10 to determine the maximum number of pitches per week.

Recommendations for pitches per game vary. Players 10 and younger should throw no more than 50 pitches per game; 11- to 14-year-olds, no more than 75 per game; and 15- to 18-year-olds no more than 90 to 100 per game.

Innings should be restricted as well. Pitchers 12 and younger should pitch no more than six innings per week, and 13- to 18-year-olds no more than 10 innings per week. The earliest recommended age for throwing change-ups is 11; curve balls at 14 and sliders at 17.

Stretching is one of the most under-used techniques for improving athletic performance and for both preventing and rehabilitating injuries. Stretching properly is simple and effective. Always warm up before stretching with running and soft throwing.

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