Baseball has traditionally been considered a spring sport, but the reality is that more and more youth and high school athletes are playing baseball throughout the year. Because of the extended seasons, these players are putting more strain on their shoulders and elbows than ever before. Consider these research findings:
Players who pitch more than 100 innings in a calendar year are three times more likely to require elbow or shoulder surgery or to retire due to injury.
When a player throws more than 600 pitches per season, the risk of elbow pain was three times greater.
Playing catcher can double or triple a pitcher’s risk of serious injury.
26% of youth players and 58% of high school pitchers experience elbow pain.
30% of 9- to 19-year-old boys playing baseball experience shoulder pain.
Nearly half (46%) of youth players (average age 15 years) said that at least once they had actually been encouraged to keep playing despite having arm pain.
It is not surprising that the number of shoulder and Tommy John elbow (ulnar) ligament-transplant operations among high school and youth pitchers has risen dramatically. There are three main risk factors for this: overuse, poor pitching mechanics, and poor physical conditioning.
A player may start by complaining of shoulder pain that is present only when throwing and for a short time afterward; however, the shoulder pain may progress to where it is present before, during, and after activity. The athlete may eventually become unable to throw at all due to the pain in the shoulder. Trouble can also start when an athlete mentions shoulder or elbow stiffness and trouble “getting loose” or arm fatigue.
Chronic shoulder conditions such as tendinitis, bursitis, impingement and subluxation are closely related. All of these conditions may cause pain in the same area: in the tendon or in a pinched bursa (the small cushion that allows tendons to move over the bone as they contract and relax) next to the tendon. Rotator cuff tendinitis occurs when the tendon becomes irritated and inflamed as it rubs on the undersurface of the shoulder. Bursitis results from the repeated pinching of the bursae between the shoulder structures which puts additional pressure on the already-inflamed shoulder area. The combination of tendinitis and bursitis may result in an impingement in the shoulder. Symptoms include pain and weakness with overhead arm movements. Subluxation is where the shoulder slips partially out of joint and then returns to its original position. This causes instability of the shoulder joint and is often related to fatigued shoulder muscles.
The StretchRite can be a great tool in treating these types of injuries because it provides both stretching and strengthening benefits.
Here are some suggestions for preventing shoulder and elbow injuries in high school and youth baseball players:
It is important to never allow players to play through pain and to make sure your athletes understand that persistent pain is a sign of a chronic (i.e. overuse) or acute injury that should sideline the athlete from playing until it subsides.
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