USA TODAY High School Sports and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association have partnered on a monthly column to address injuries, prevention and related issues to help schools, coaches and student-athletes. Here is the latest column from Scott Sailor, the president of NATA.
With the start of the World Series only a few weeks away, you probably have baseball on the mind.
Loved by sports enthusiasts of all ages, baseball has earned its title as “the national pastime.” Unfortunately, because the sport consists of so many repetitive movements, overuse injuries are a problem, even with young athletes. If you are throwing too hard, too much, too early and without rest, you are putting your elbows and shoulders at risk of injury.
One of the most common repetitive baseball injuries occurs in the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), a thick triangular band found in the elbow. The UCL is the main stabilizer of the elbow for the pitching motion. Damage or tears in the UCL typically happen when a pitcher throws too much.
The best treatment for overuse is rest, especially from the activity that caused the injury. You can also use ice to reduce soreness and inflammation and ibuprofen for pain. After the pain is gone and you once again have full motion, you should begin a throwing rehabilitation program. A sports medicine physician and athletic trainer can assist you with this. They will help you increase flexibility and endurance.
You should immediately see a physician who is familiar with youth sport injuries if you experience elbow or shoulder pain the day after throwing; movement of the joint is painful or restricted compared to the opposite side; or symptoms persist.
In some circumstances, surgery may be necessary. With pitchers, the most well-known procedure is Tommy John surgery – aka UCL reconstruction. Through this surgery, the damaged ligament is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body, usually the forearm, hamstring or foot.
While many who undergo Tommy John surgery make a full recovery and continue to have successful pitching careers, the surgery isn’t a preemptive measure against UCL damage and can’t be done to enhance a player’s performance. Surgery should be a last option, and it certainly doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to throw faster.
Overuse injuries are preventable, especially when it comes to the UCL and shoulder. Here are some ways you can stay safe while playing baseball:
Stay away from one-sport specialization. Playing multiple sports will help prevent repetitive use injuries.
Strengthen your rotator cuff, scapular muscles and core. An athletic trainer can help you come up with a program to help your muscles better handle the stress of playing baseball.
Develop a play catch routine that allows you to warm up your arm gradually both for distance and velocity. Work into throwing.
Avoid playing on multiple baseball teams during the same season.
Rest your arm. Take at least six weeks off from throwing after the season.
Develop a preseason throwing program/long toss program so that your arm is in shape when the season starts.
Talk with your coaches and sports medicine professional about any arm pain you may have.
Work within your league’s pitch count guidelines.
Don’t focus on the velocity; focus on command, location and proper mechanics.
Keep an eye on your posture, range of motion and flexibility. Sit up straight – bad posture puts extra stress on your neck and shoulders.