Baseball is America’s pastime, but it's also the cause of a rising number of elbow and shoulder injuries in children and youths. Each year, thousands of kids seek medical attention for pain incurred on the baseball diamond. If your child participates in this popular summertime sport, you want to know how to keep them safe.
How Injuries Happen
Baseball practice and game schedules can be intense and grueling at the height of the season. Many kids are passionate about playing and improving and don't want to hold back, or haven't developed the ability to know when they're pushing too hard. Unfortunately, throwing too much, throwing too hard and failing to rest between practices or games can create the perfect storm for elbow and shoulder injuries.
One of the most common baseball-related injuries occurs when the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) becomes torn and damaged through the motions of throwing and pitching. The UCL is the main elbow-stabilizing ligament, so it’s not surprising it becomes subject to damage in a sport that relies heavily on throwing a ball.
Tips for Prevention
Fortunately, many baseball injuries — including those affecting the UCL and shoulder — can be prevented. Encouraging children to take the following steps minimizes the risk of a painful and season-ending injury:
- Don’t skip warm-ups! Stretching, running and a gradual ramp up to throwing help avert injury.
- Even if you love pitching, rotate to other positions during practice. Communicate these desires with coaches.
- Avoid participating as a pitcher in leagues with overlapping seasons and don’t play year-round. Cross-training and rest are important, too.
- Fun as it may seem, don’t throw for a radar gun.
- Take a rest between pitching days.
- Work with coaches on good throwing and pitching form.
- Never play with elbow or shoulder pain and talk to a medical professional if these occur.
It is actually not that difficult to decrease the likelihood of common baseball injuries. The hard part might be convincing a kid who’s passionate about baseball to take these steps. It's important to communicate with the coach and other parents to develop some common understanding of what kids need to do to stay healthy and keep playing.
Treatment of Injuries
Even with careful preventive measures, injuries happen. If your child experiences pain or restriction of movement in the elbow or shoulder after practicing or playing, it’s a good idea to have them evaluated by a medical professional with expertise in sports injuries ASAP.
Some of the most basic treatment for injuries related to overuse fall under the acronym RICE:
Unfortunately for the player and often the team, it’s necessary to rest from what caused the injury — in other words, baseball. Ibuprofen may also help reduce pain. However, persistent pain, soreness, inflammation and restriction of motion should be evaluated. An examination would likely include X-rays and perhaps an MRI.
Potential treatments that may be indicated include:
Rest cure: Some injuries may be able to resolve by merely taking a period of time away from baseball and other activities that may aggravate the injury. An orthopedist who specializes in sports injury can advise you on an appropriate period of time and give you the go-ahead to return to the field.
Rehabilitation: If a concern exists about losing fitness — muscle tone, endurance, flexibility — during a rest period, physical therapy may also be prescribed.
Surgery: In cases where failure to treat has caused a long-term or permanent deformity or disability, orthopedic surgery may be needed. Overuse injuries can be particularly complicated for kids because they can affect growing bodies differently than adults.
Baseball and other sports injuries don’t have to put your child on the sidelines for long, especially if you seek appropriate treatment when problems arise.