As the Little League regional and international tournaments hit full swing, and several other young weekend-warrior baseball players hop from tournament to tournament, it’s a good time to think about overhead injury prevention.
Overhead injuries can occur in almost any sport or activity that features repetitive overhead use. The primary overhead athletes we think of are baseball and softball’s pitchers, catchers and shortstops, but football quarterbacks, tennis players and swimmers are all equally at risk.
In terms of baseball, many point to strict pitch counts as proactive prevention, but those counts are often only adhered to in games. And that’s only protecting pitchers. Catchers keep throwing overhand back to the mound even after a pitcher leaves the game due to pitch count.
The type of injuries that can develop from overuse stem from ligament strains, bone structure/growth plate injuries and tendon injuries such as tendinitis or labral tears. Furthermore, range of motion injuries can compound the problem if the athlete attempts to pitch through initial pain.
My first advice to my young patients is DON’T PLAY YEAR-ROUND. That’s a hard thing to tell an athlete and convince them to oblige. But my biggest argument is that NOBODY plays year-round. Collegiate athletes have rest periods, and professional athletes too. When the season ends, it ends. And they stop playing. They continue to cross-train and work on fragments of their skill sets, but they aren’t playing full-tilt competition.
If and when an overhead athlete is in season, he or she need to pay attention to their shoulder. Everyone will experience muscular pain the day after throwing, but if it becomes prolonged pain that occurs while at rest, that ought to be a red flag. If one is able to afford a positional or private coach who can help keep an eye on mechanics and overuse, that’s highly advisable. In addition, be sure to cross train and keep those muscle groups strong.
Many of these injuries are treatable, but the amount of playing time missed due to rehab can be significant.
Be smart. Pay attention to your body, and give it time to rest now and again.
Dr. Benjamin Busfield is an orthopedic surgeon who practices at Sutter Delta Medical Center and Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. He is board certified in orthopedic and sports medicine.
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