11 June 2012

Play Ball Safely This Summer

Story first appeared in the Troy-Somerset Gazette.

The Detroit Tigers are once again in pursuit of the American League Pennant, and that means that baseball season is also here for all of our little leaguers and high school athletes. Personally, I always look forward to the beginning of baseball season.  It’s a time to enjoy the spring weather, and it’s also a time enjoy “playing ball” at all levels – from T-ball, to the church or city softball league, to the Detroit Tigers.
In the sports medicine world, it also means that baseball injuries will hit their yearly peak.  More than 40 million people across the country will hit the diamond this season, and roughly 500,000 will suffer baseball or softball-related injuries.  While baseball and softball can’t exactly be equated with professional bull riding as one of America’s riskiest sports, there are certainly a variety of injuries that do occur.  These injuries can be divided into throwing injuries, running and sliding injuries, and those injuries that occur when a player is struck with a bat or ball. If you want to take a trip around the bases – and not a trip to the doctor’s office or emergency room – you’ll want to read the following recommendations:

Throwing Injuries

Many injuries occur when players overuse their arms.  This time of year, a physical therapy practice is swamped with little league and high school pitchers who have “overdone it.”  Kids with little leaguers’ elbow and little leaguers’ shoulder show up every day during the baseball season. These conditions occur because the throwing motion irritates, and can even fracture, the growth plates of a young thrower’s elbow or shoulder.  What’s troubling is that the number of young throwers flocking to doctors’ offices with sore shoulders and elbows has risen dramatically over the last decade, and what’s even more alarming is that the incidence of shoulder and elbow surgery for problems in young throwers has skyrocketed.  To combat this, most leagues have put in place some sort of rule that involves pitch counts or limiting the number of innings pitched in a week – that’s because it’s really important. Your child really doesn’t want a “spent” shoulder or elbow by the time he or she’s in college.  Based upon its expertise and review of existing studies, the USA Baseball Medical & Safety Advisory Committee makes the following recommendations for minimizing a pitcher’s risk of future serious arm injury: 

Recommended limits for youth pitchers are as follows:

Advised limits for 9-10 year olds:
50 pitches per game
75 pitches per week
1000 pitches per season
2000 pitches per year

Advised limits for 11-12 year olds:
75 pitches per game
100 pitches per week
1000 pitches per season
3000 pitches per year

Advised limits for 13-14 year olds:
75 pitches per game
125 pitches per week
1000 pitches per season
3000 pitches per year

By using some additional guidelines, that include things like not throwing breaking balls before highschool age, as well as pitching a maximum of 9 months out of the year, many injuries and problems can be avoided.  With that being said, young pitchers are still running into trouble because they are pitching for multiple teams, and they are often pitching too many months of the year by being involved in travel leagues and specialized clinics.  The bottom line is that if a pitcher at any level experiences significant pain with throwing, it’s probably time to get it checked out.

Many parents, coaches, and league officials may be interested in some research that we are currently
doing that relates to throwing injuries in young pitchers between the ages of 9 and 18.  This is my third year of being in charge of this national study that is sponsored through the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM).  This study is in the process of accumulating a huge amount of data on young throwers from all over the country, and it is already giving us some vital information on how we can prevent shoulder and elbow injuries in our youth baseball pitchers.  The first limb of the study is based on a simple questionnaire that can be filled out by a young pitcher and/or parent in about 15 minutes.  Your athletes can participate in this portion of the study by going to www.surveymonkey.com/s/pitching. The second limb of the study is an office-based evaluation and questionnaire directed at young pitchers who have hurt themselves and who are seeking treatment.

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