Injuries in young athletes are on the rise, but elbow and shoulder injuries in children are on the verge of becoming an epidemic. Thousands of children are seen each year complaining of elbow or shoulder pain. Damage or tear to the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is the most common injury suffered and is often caused by pitchers throwing too much. This ligament is the main stabilizer of the elbow for the motions of pitching. When it becomes damaged, it can be difficult to repair and rehabilitate.
How is an elbow or shoulder injury diagnosed?
If a young athlete is throwing too hard, too much, too early, and without rest, a serious elbow or shoulder injury may be on the horizon. If the athlete complains of elbow or shoulder pain the day after throwing, or movement of the joint is painful or restricted compared to the opposite side, see a physician familiar with youth sports injuries immediately.
How can overuse baseball injuries be prevented?
Overuse injuries — especially those related to the UCL and shoulder—are preventable. Some tips to keep you in the game throughout your life include:
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- Warm up properly by stretching, running, and easy, gradual throwing
- Rotate playing other positions besides pitcher
- Concentrate on age-appropriate pitching
- Adhere to pitch count guidelines, such as those established by Little League Baseball (See tables)
- Avoid pitching on multiple teams with overlapping seasons
- Don't pitch with elbow or shoulder pain, if the pain persists, see a doctor
- Don't pitch on consecutive days
- Don't play year-round
- Never use a radar gun
- Communicate regularly about how your arm is feeling and if there is pain
- Develop skills that are age appropriate
- Emphasize control, accuracy, and good mechanics
- Master the fastball first and the change-up second, before considering breaking pitches
- Speak with a sports medicine professional or athletic trainer if you have any concerns about baseball injuries or baseball injury prevention strategies.