By Michael Ellerbusch, MD
Ah, baseball. Few things are more enjoyable than watching your child play America’s favorite pastime. However, baseball is not all fun and games, especially when it comes to your child’s physical health. In fact, there are thousands of baseball-related injuries every year, mostly related to the elbow and shoulder, that are linked primarily to overuse. And while baseball fosters a healthy love of competition, dedication, and teamwork, it can also lead to lifelong injuries that can impact your child’s body and their daily life. That’s why it’s important to be aware of potential baseball-related injuries.
Little League Elbow
This most often affects pitchers and overhand throwers ages eight through15. Little League Elbow generally presents as pain on the inside of the elbow, due to an injury to or inflammation of the growth plate, that can be very sore and stiff, especially during or after throwing or pitching. The best way to avoid this condition is to stick to the pitch count recommendations and adequate pitching techniques for your child’s age group. If he does develop Little League Elbow, it’s important to rest the injured arm and seek a specialist’s opinion to avoid making the injury worse and to determine treatment options. A good rule for young players is to never throw through pain or never throw through an altered throwing form.
Little League Shoulder
Much like Little League Elbow, Little League Shoulder (formally known as osteochondrosis of the proximal humeral epiphysis) is caused by overuse, relative shoulder or scapular weakness, or altered throwing mechanics. This generally occurs in children ages 11 to 17 years old. If your child is complaining of pain in his shoulder, this is a most likely cause. This pain is caused by the inflammation or widening of the growth plate in the proximal humerus (top of the upper arm bone) at the shoulder. The best way to combat this injury is to adjust the number of pitches, to assure proper pitching form, and to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder. If your child is having this problem, take him to a specialist so that they can have an X-ray to check out the area. Potential treatments include resting, physical therapy, and symptom management.
Like all sports that require running, baseball sees its fair share of ankle sprains. A sprain is a type of injury in which the ligaments that connect bones together are stretched or partially torn or completely torn. There are several ligaments in the ankle that can be injured playing baseball, but the most common are the ligaments on the outside of the ankle that connect the fibula (small lower leg bone) to the foot and heel bones. While most sprains will heal up on their own over time, it’s a good idea to see a specialist to confirm that no more intense damage has been done, including potential injury to the growth plate or cartilage. This injury may even require an X-ray to determine if there is also a fracture present. Treatment may include relative rest, physical therapy, breaking/taping, and symptom management.
Concussion from baseball happen more often than you would expect. High-speed running, colliding with opponents, or getting knocked in the head with a ball can all result in a concussion. Concussions occur when a player receives a direct blow to the head or an injury that shakes the brain around, causing any neurological symptoms. If a concussion is suspected, pull your child from practice or the game immediately and take them to their physician for evaluation. Although most concussions are mild and heal spontaneously, if a concussion is suspected, Alabama State Law requires evaluation and clearance by a Physician before an athlete can return to sports. It is also important to watch for red flag symptoms such as a worsening headache, increased sleepiness, and difficulty to arouse, delayed vomiting, loss of consciousness, seizures, and other worsening symptoms. Should this occur, we recommend taking the athlete to the Emergency Room.
While injuries from baseball can’t always be avoided, it’s important to be an advocate for your child when it comes to keeping him healthy. Encourage him to do an appropriate throwing program before the season starts, and to warm up before practice and games. Make sure he adheres to the published guidelines for pitch count, rest time, and maximal pitches per day. And encourage him to let you know if he is experiencing any pain so that you can get him needed care.
Michael Ellerbusch, MD is a non-surgical sports medicine physician with Southlake Orthopaedics Sports Medicine & Spine Center.