It’s that glorious time of year when pitchers pitch; batters swing and outfielders reach out to catch a fast and furious white leather-bound ball. Yep, it’s baseball season!
While the pros start their 162 game regular season, school teams and Little Leagues are suiting up and hitting the fields as well.
Although typically in good physical shape, professional players are not immune to injuries – just ask the Texas Rangers.
Kids on the other hand, play long and sometimes double games at tournaments on the weekends. Many of these kids are weekend warriors that love the game, but aren’t always in the best physical condition.
According to a pair of recent studies, young baseball pitchers are playing with arm and shoulder pain because they feel pressured by their parents or coaches. Playing through the pain may lead to injuries that won’t heal.
"Kids are playing harder and longer in more leagues than ever before," said Dr. Paul Saluan, director of pediatric and adolescent sports medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. "Kids also are not getting enough rest in between episodes of pitching, which may lead to insufficient time to heal smaller stress injuries. Over time, these smaller injuries add up."
Kids explained why they kept playing even though they were in pain. "Players who experience pain often felt their parents and coaches were frustrated with them," said Dr. Christopher Ahmad, professor of orthopedic surgery at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.
"Throwing with pain is a signal that injury is occurring," added Ahmad, who is the New York Yankees' head team physician.
In Ahmad's study, he and his colleagues surveyed 203 healthy players, aged 8 to 18. Just under one-quarter of them had experienced a prior overuse injury, they found.
Almost half of the players -- 46 percent -- said they had been encouraged to continue playing with arm pain, and 30 percent said their arm pain sometimes made playing less fun.
Those most likely to report being encouraged to play despite pain had a previous overuse injury. They were also more likely to report feeling arm pain while throwing and to experience arm fatigue during games or practice.
The second study looked at whether parents were monitoring their child’s pitch count during a game. Sixty parents of baseball pitchers were surveyed and just over half of the parents were not aware of safe pitching guidelines and did not actively monitor their child's pitch count.
The most important aspects of safe pitching guidelines are a maximum number of recommended throws based on a child's age and the number of days of rest needed between throwing stints, said Saluan.
"The focus has been on creating a better athlete who can throw harder, faster and more accurately than ever before," Saluan said. "Injury prevention has taken a back seat."
One in five parents did not know how many pitches their child threw in a typical game, but 64 percent recalled that their child had experienced pain in the upper extremities because of pitching, the survey found. For one-third of the pitchers, the pain required a medical evaluation.
"Kids who continue to pitch through pain end up with significant injuries that may have lifelong consequences," Saluan said. "Younger pitchers who are still growing are much more vulnerable than adults to sustain an injury to the growth plates around the shoulder and elbow.”
Injuries to the growth plates usually heal with rest, Ahmad said. But he noted that more young pitchers are also damaging their ulnar collateral ligament, an important ligament in the elbow.
"Unfortunately, these injuries do not always heal and often require surgery," he said.
Most of the injuries are caused when kids are playing too many games, specializing in one aspect of the game, using poor pitching mechanics and throwing too hard.
In the pitching study, half the young pitchers threw in at least two leagues at a time, one-quarter pitched more than nine months of the year, and just over half participated in extra showcase situations.
"We have fallen into the trap of 'too much too soon,'" said Saluan. "This has resulted in a rise in injury rates in kids whose bodies are not prepared to handle the stresses that are encountered."
If you’re unsure of how to monitor your child’s pitching, the Major League Baseball website has a “Pitch Smart” guidelines page for young and adolescent pitchers listed at the end of this article.
The studies were presented at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons' annual meeting in Las Vegas. Data and conclusions presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Sources: Tara Haelle, http://consumer.healthday.com/fitness-information-14/baseball-or-softball-health-news-240/young-pitchers-often-pressured-to-play-despite-pain-study-says-697197.html