David B. Gealt, DO
Assistant Director, Sports Medicine Program
Director, Sports Concussion Program
Common Baseball Injuries
Excessive pitching is a common cause of shoulder and elbow injuries in child and teen athletes. These overuse injuries occur over time, damaging the soft tissues (muscles and ligaments) and bones. Other common baseball injuries—sliding into bases, being hit by the ball, colliding with another player, or jamming a finger while trying to catch the ball—are acute (caused by a sudden trauma).
Pitchers should only throw overhead pitches until they have completed puberty and most of their growth spurt. Sliders and curve balls may cause a drop in the elbow and place extra stress on the elbow joint, which can damage ligaments and bones. Reserve these special pitches until the athlete’s junior year of high school.
Preventing Pitching Injuries
Pitching is not a “no pain, no gain” activity. Pitch counts prevent elbow and shoulder overuse injuries, especially in teens. Guidelines range from 90 to 120 pitches per week, including practice. A good rule of thumb is 10 pitches for every year of age (age 7: 70 pitches, age 8: 80 pitches, etc.). Some guidelines also break it down by innings per week, with no more than six innings per week and at least three days of rest between games. Teaching the proper technique early is important so that young athletes don’t pick up bad habits.
Begin proper warm-up strengthening and stretching programs at least six weeks before the season and continue during the season. Overuse injuries are becoming more common as many baseball teams are playing year-round, including in weekend tournaments where a team may play up to seven times. Let the young pitcher rest during the year (or play another sport), and avoid tournaments every weekend.
Preventing Other Baseball Injuries
Wearing protective gear, such as helmets and eye protectors, can prevent some injuries or lessen their extent. Breakaway bases, soft bases attached to the ground with snaps that are dislodged when a player slides, should be used. Players should always warm-up and stretch before activity.
When should an injured young or teen athlete see a doctor?
Recurrent pain or constant soreness to a body area may mean an overuse injury that should be checked out. If an acute injury is severe or potentially severe (e.g., a fractured or dislocated joint, prolonged swelling, or prolonged or severe pain), take the athlete to a doctor.
If the injury alters athletic performance or function, it should be evaluated. Young athletes must learn to listen to their bodies and to stop playing and ask for help if they feel pain. Often, they do not tell their coaches or families about an injury, so be watchful.
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