For Young Ballplayers, Support and Caution Are Key

SATURDAY, May 23 (HealthDay News) --Play ball! Just do it safely, says the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

In 2007, more than 203,000 U.S. children aged 5 to 14 were treated for baseball-related injuries in hospital emergency departments, doctors' offices and other medical settings, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission notes.

"Little League has become a very popular sport among children today," said Dr. Donald J. Zoltan, an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and a spokesman for the academy. "Coaches and parents need to remember that a child's bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons are still growing, making them more susceptible to injury, especially from overuse."

Among Little League pitchers, overuse injuries related to throwing too many pitches have become so common that they are often referred to as "Little League elbow."

But it's possible to play baseball or other sports and avoid injuries. And to do that, the academy suggests that youngsters:

  • Keep in good physical condition and don't play while in pain or feeling tired.
  • Pay strict attention to following the rules of the game.
  • Use protective gear, such as batting helmets, athletic supporters and shoes with plastic cleats, and make sure the equipment fits properly. Catchers also need catchers' mitts, chest guards, face guards, and knee and shin pads.
  • Avoid injuries by warming up muscles before playing. Perform several minutes of light exercise followed by slow, gentle stretches, and hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds.
  • Stay away from steroids or other performance-enhancing substances.

In addition, parents and coaches of young baseball players should:

  • Prevent excessive pitching by sticking to the league's guidelines on the number of innings that can be pitched. To avoid elbow injuries, usually the limit is four to 10 innings per week.
  • Watch the pitchers pitch-count. There is no set guideline, but 80 to 100 pitches per game and 30 to 40 pitches in a practice would usually be considered reasonable.
  • Take the child out of the game or the practice session if they are experiencing persistent pain.
  • Learn to recognize the symptoms that are signs of steroid use.

The academy stresses that youth sports are supposed to be fun. While team members, their parents and coaches may all fall into the trap of wanting to "win at all costs," this attitude can lead to injuries. Parents and coaches can protect their young athletes by teaching them not to ignore the signs of injury and not to play in pain.

More information

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more on keeping young pitchers from developing elbow injuries.

SOURCE: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, news release, April 22, 2009

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