For many of us, sports are a big part of our lives, whether you are an avid fan or a person who jumps at the opportunity to participate. For both children and adults, organized and community sports can be a great way to more involved and meet people, while getting some healthy physical activity. Of course, whether you are a parent or a participant yourself, it is a good idea to consider the risks associated with different athletic activities and the ways to mitigate those risks. With baseball and softball—and gorgeous afternoons at the ballpark—just around the corner, now is a good time to take a look at some of those issues, with a particular focus on youth sports.
Each year, more than 3.5 million kids under the age of 14 receive medical treatment for some type of sports-related injury. The good news about this statistic is that more than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable. Here are some brief sports injury facts:
- Injuries associated with participation in sports and recreational activities account for 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among children in the United States.
- Children ages 5 to 14 account for nearly 40 percent of all sports-related injuries treated in hospital emergency departments. The rate and severity of sports-related injury increases with a child’s age.
- Overuse injuries, which arise over as a result of repeated motion, account for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle-and high-school students. Immature bones, insufficient rest after an injury and poor training or conditioning are contributing factors.
- Most organized sports related injuries (62 percent) occur during practices rather than games, highlighting the need for parents and coaches to take safety just as seriously during practice as they would during a game.
With this general picture of sports injuries in mind, what are some issues related specifically to baseball and softball? For both, the risk of elbow and shoulder injuries is a primary concern. Thousands of children each year experience elbow or shoulder pain, and in baseball and softball, damage or tear to the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is the most common injury, particularly for pitchers. Once damaged, the ligament is difficult to repair and rehabilitate. Damage to the UCL generally occurs as a result of overuse—throwing too hard, too much, too early, and without rest. Anyone who experiences pain or restricted movement in the elbow or shoulder should seek the attention of a physician.
As with many sports injuries, there are steps to prevent damage to the UCL. Some very basic measures to take include:
- Proper warm-up, including stretching, running, and light throwing
- Adherence to pitch-count guidelines, according to age group
- Avoidance of pitching on multiple teams with overlapping seasons
- Resting when pain or discomfort is being experienced
- Not playing year round, and avoiding pitching on consecutive days
Aside from these injury-specific precautions, as a parent you can promote safety in sports generally: take a proactive stance by educating yourself on the safety issues specific to your children’s chosen sports and then insist that precautions be put in place; encourage your children to engage in diverse sports activities to guard against overuse; and ensure the organizers of your children’s activities have policies in place to ensure safe play.