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Prevent Injuries in Youth Baseball Before Season Starts

There are some steps parents can take even before the season begins to reduce the risk that their child will be injured playing youth baseball:

  • Make sure your child is healthy before the season starts. Before your child starts playing baseball, he should get a complete sports physical (e.g. pre-participation physical exam) which should include:
    • testing for strength, flexibility and endurance.
    • a check of overall health should be checked for conditions that might affect his ability to play baseball.
    • the taking of a complete injury history.
    • the taking of a complete family medical history, especially heart attacks in men under the age of 50, which could help the doctor spot potential heart problems, which, although rare, could be fatal.

A reminder: be sure to tell your child's coach about important medical conditions he may have (such as asthma, diabetes, food or insect allergies etc.).

  • Make sure your child is in proper physical condition to play baseball.   The general decline in physical activity (e.g.free play, walking to school, and regular physical-education classes), coupled with a general increase in sedentary activities (e.g.watching television, spending time on a computer, texting, playing video games,physical activity limited to sports participation) means that there are more athletes with poorer levels of general fitness or conditioning who may not be able to tolerate the demands of training required for sport participation.  Conditioning-related injuries occur most often at the beginning of a season when kids are most likely to be out of shape.  In its 2011 position statement on overuse injuries, the National Athletic Trainers' Association recommends that:
    • Athletes begin ageneral-fitness routineencompassing strengthening, endurance, and flexibility training as well aslifestyle physical fitness(e.g. taking the stairs instead of the elevator) at least 2 months before the sport season starts.
    • Many injuries can be prevented if your child follows a regular strength and conditioning program before the season starts that incorporates exercises designed specifically for baseball, and for the position he plays (for instance, catchers, because they have to squat continuously, should do exercises, such as leg extensions, leg curls, and toe raisers, that develop strength and flexibility of the muscles around the knees, especially those of the thighs and calves). 
    • Encourage your child to train to get ready to play baseball, rather than expecting to get in shape simply by playing and practicing. A month before the season begins, he should run or engage in some kind of physical exercise one or twice a week. He should gradually increase the number of workouts to three or four times a week by the time team practices begin. Once a general foundation of fitness has been established, athlete should begin to gradually increase training loads following the 10% rule, which allows for no more than 10% increase in the amount of training time, distance, repetitions, or load per week.
    • Many injuries in baseball involve the throwing arm and shoulder. Most pitching injuries are caused by overuse. All players, but especially pitchers, should incorporate conditioning and stretching exercises for the shoulder into an overall conditioning program. The muscles in the front of the arm are naturally stronger. Because many shoulder injuries result from weaker muscles in the back of the arm that are used to stop the pitching motion, the conditioning program should emphasize building up those muscles. Exercise routines such as cross-body curls, using light dumbbell weights, and wall push-ups are useful for strengthening shoulder muscles.
  • Teach proper throwing mechanics. If your child is a pitcher, make sure he learns how to properly position his throwing arm during all phases of the pitching motion. Pitcher's arm movements during different phases of the pitching motion, if performed incorrectly, can cause injury. Studies have identified four problem areas:
    • Maximum shoulder rotation: A pitcher needs to rotate his body more to avoid placing too much stress on the arm and shoulder which occurs when his arm is positioned too far behind his body.
    • Improper elbow angle: The pitcher's arm needs to be away from his body when the ball is released; the closer the arm is to the body, the more potential for injury. 
    • Arm lagging behind the body. When a pitcher gets tired, his arm tends to lag behind his body, placing undue stress on the shoulder. 
    • Excessive ball speed. Trying to throw too hard can be harmful, especially for young players.
  • Make sure your child's coach is qualified. Insist on well-trained coaches. A youth baseball coach should know how to teach proper throwing, batting and catching mechanics, be trained in first-aid and have an emergency medical plan in place for reaching medical personnel to treat injuries such as concussions, dislocations, elbow contusions, wrist or finger sprains, and fractures. Make sure your child's coach teaches players how to avoid injury when sliding (prohibits headfirst sliding in young players), pitching, and batting (including how to get out of the way of a pitch aimed directly at them or, if being hit is unavoidable, how to at least turn away from the pitch). 
  • Make sure that the coach has an emergency information card on your child and every other player. You should also ensure that a person certified in first aid and CPR is present at every game and practice who is ready to immediately respond to any injury, and that a first-aid kit with ice is on hand. 
  • Buy your child a mouth guard and make sure he wears it. Mouth guards not only protect the teeth, but the lips, cheeks, and tongue and may reduce the risk of such head and neck injuries as concussions and jaw fractures. For more about mouth guards, click here.

Posted March 27, 2011