Professional pitchers and catchers aren't the only ones that end up on the sidelines due to injuries during baseball season. Young players across the country are just as susceptible to shoulder and elbow injuries, in fact it's known as Little League Shoulder.
Little League shoulder happens when an athlete throws too often or repeatedly throws the wrong way and hurts his shoulder. In younger athletes, growth plates—soft places toward the end of the bone that cause it to grow—are prone to injury, and can get irritated with too much use. Usually, the arm may be tender and sore, and it will hurt to throw.
A new study out of Boston, Massachusetts, says Little League Shoulder is on the rise.
"It's certainly being seen with more frequency," said study author Dr. Benton Heyworth, an instructor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School, and a practitioner in the division of sports medicine at Boston Children's Hospital. "And that's likely due to trends in youth sports in general.
"In the case of baseball, that means more year-round pitching without the appropriate period of rest between, and more pitching at higher velocities. Which means that although 'USA Baseball' and 'Little League Baseball' outline clear pitch-count limits, what we're seeing are very straightforward overuse injuries that come from kids simply pitching too much," Heyworth added.
Little League Shoulder is usually found in young baseball players, but can show up in other sports such as gymnastics and tennis.
To gain more insight into Little League shoulder, the investigators analyzed the experience of 95 patients with the condition aged 8 to 17 (the average age was 13).
All were treated at a single pediatric care facility between 1999 and 2013, and nearly all (97 percent) were baseball players. Of those, 86 percent were pitchers, 8 percent were catchers, and 7 percent played other positions.
Three percent of the group were tennis players. Just two out of the 95 were female, according to the study.
In addition to the main issue of shoulder pain, 13 percent of the patients also complained of elbow pain, while 10 percent said they suffered from shoulder weakness and/or fatigue. Nearly as many (8 percent) said they experienced mechanical difficulties with shoulder movement.
Children that developed reduced range of motion issues had a three-times greater risk of re-injury within six to 12 months following their return to sports, the findings showed.
The best treatment for Little League Shoulder is rest – the hardest thing for an athlete to do. Physical therapy is also recommended before a young athlete gets back to his or her sport. Also, when it comes to baseball, many physical therapists suggest the player play different positions to help continue the healing process.
Coaches and parents can help kids recognize they may have an injury by checking to see if players are exhibiting abnormal movements while fielding, throwing or batting. Athletes are more likely to try and play through a flare-up, especially when they feel better after a little rest. But, repeated injury can cause a more serious condition to develop leading to a season ending diagnosis or worse.
The Little League Organization has specific protocols that are supposed to be followed by all leagues and coaches.
Regular season rules state that "the manager must remove the pitcher when said pitcher reaches the limit for his/her age group as noted below, but the pitcher may remain in the game at another position."
League Age and pitches rules are:
- 1 7-18 years-old - 105 pitches per day
- 13 -16 years-old - 95 pitches per day
- 11 -12 years-old - 85 pitches per day
- 9-10 years-old - 75 pitches per day
- 7-8 years-old - 50 pitches per day
Playing baseball is about as American as (insert your favorite pie here) and as a team sport it's one of the best. Just keep an eye on your star athlete to make sure he or she doesn't overdue it. Little League shoulder and elbow pain can take the fun out of "Let's Play Ball!"
The study's findings were recently presented at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine's annual meeting in Seattle.