As youth baseball season approaches, so, too, does the risk of injuries — some of which could require surgery for your little ball player later in life. Injuries sustained in Little League most commonly involve the shoulder and elbow, and are typically due to overuse. The best approach is prevention through appropriate preseason conditioning and training, as well as following safe guidelines for play. With proper precautions, the vast majority of baseball injuries, which are increasingly common among young athletes due to high demands and expectations, can be prevented. Here are some tips that can help prevent injuries.
• Establish a consistent warm-up routine prior to any athletic activity, and include a stretching program where stretches are held for 30 seconds.
• Running is a key component in pre-activity warm-up and preseason conditioning, and it’s an important way for pitchers to develop endurance and stamina, and for position players to develop speed and agility.
• Strength training is essential for baseball players, and special attention needs to be paid to the rotator cuff, biceps, triceps, and forearm muscles.
• The adage that practice makes perfect is not always the case in baseball — it is important to avoid pitching on consecutive days.
• Youth pitchers should focus on developing accuracy and control through good pitching mechanics, and should focus on mastering the fast ball before moving on to other types of pitches.
• Communication between players, parents, and coaches is an easy way to identify problems before they become a more significant injury. Persistent pain, which does not improve with rest, should be evaluated by a sports medicine specialist.
Little League baseball has established a set of age-appropriate, pitch count guidelines that both coaches and parents should follow to avoid overuse injuries. It has also established a set of guidelines regarding the amount of rest needed between games depending on the number of pitches thrown. It is important that parents take these guidelines into consideration, because most injuries can be treated non-operatively if addressed early enough.
Tony Wanich, MD, is the attending surgeon for the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Montefiore Medical Center.