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How to avoid arm injuries among young baseball players

Health
Young child in catcher's gear throwing baseball while laughing

Dr. William Greer is more familiar with baseball injuries than the average orthopedic surgeon.
From 2006-2008, he served as a team physician for the Pittsburgh Pirates and in his role with Tidelands Health, the official health system of the CCU Chanticleers and official health care provider for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, he can often be found at the Pelicans’ stadium caring for players during home games.
Still, the majority of baseball injuries Dr. Greer sees are not in professional players, but in kids who play baseball recreationally or as students. He says that among this population, overuse injuries in the shoulder and elbow — particularly among pitchers — are far and away the biggest problem.
“It’s widespread,” says Dr. Greer, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Tidelands Health Orthopedics at Murrells Inlet. “I would guess that at least 70 percent of all pitchers at some point will have shoulder and elbow problems, if not more. It’s nearing almost epidemic proportions.”
Dr. Greer, medical director of the Tidelands Health Sports Medicine Institute, says he sometimes sees knee injuries in catchers or wrist and ankle fractures from players diving and sliding into bases, but shoulder and elbow issues comprise the largest number of baseball injuries by far.

Causes

Overuse of the shoulder and elbow in baseball is due to the repetitive nature of the sport, as well as excessive use of the dominant arm. Inevitably the joints and muscles in that arm will experience trauma if a player isn’t vigilant about protecting it.
Dr. Greer recommends that younger players in particular be limited in the amount of pitches they throw, and that they hold off on practicing curve balls and other specialty pitches until they are older. In addition, youth players should take three months off from baseball each year.
“We know with certainty that the more you throw at a younger age, the greater chance you have of developing a problem,” he says.

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Dr. Greer says most players are reluctant to voluntarily take time off, but failing to follow the recommendation can lead to an unplanned – and painful – hiatus if a player experiences an injury that requires surgery.
Even without surgery, players with motion issues in their shoulders and elbows will have to undergo therapy that involves a halt in throwing for several weeks until proper motion is reestablished through stretching and strengthening exercises.
Dr. Greer says the worst thing a player can do is pitch through problems.
“We see it all the time; when they do this, they run into secondary problems that require surgery,” he says.
“Prevention is key,” he continues. “Through proper pitching mechanics, limiting the number of pitches thrown, ensuring adequate rest after competition and maintaining strength and flexibility, players will spend more time on the field and less time in the training room or operating room.”
He encourages young pitchers, their parents and coaches to follow Major League Baseball’s “Pitch Smart” guidelines, a series of age-based recommendations meant to help young players avoid overuse injuries. The guidelines address pitch counts, days of rest and more.

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