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As Youth Baseball Season Nears, Experts Urge Injury Prevention

MONDAY, Feb. 27 (HealthDay News) -- With winter turning to spring, youth baseball will soon be starting.

Experts are warning, however, that young ball players are at risk for injuries, many of which are preventable.

"Baseball is America's pastime. In order to minimize the risk of injury and maximize enjoyment of the game, coaches, parents and youth baseball and softball players should be familiar with 'an ounce of prevention' guidelines," statement co-author Dr. Joseph Congeni said in a news release from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The AAP has issued a revised policy statement on youth baseball and softball, published online Feb. 27 in Pediatrics.

According to Congeni, "being aware of a few issues regarding overuse, appropriate equipment, environmental factors and those rare but catastrophic injuries can help accomplish these goals and ensure kids are having fun and staying healthy playing ball."

Throwing injuries are a major issue for young baseball players but can be prevented by teaching about proper throwing mechanics, training and conditioning, and encouraging players to stop playing and seek treatment whenever they experience signs of overuse injuries, the statement advises.

"Not everyone may know exactly when an athlete begins to show signs of overuse, but it is important to know to never pitch when one's arm is tired or sore. Athletes must respect the limits imposed on throwing, including pitch counts and rest periods," statement co-author Dr. Stephen Rice said in the AAP news release.

Among the other recommendations:

  • All players should wear appropriate protective gear, including polycarbonate eye protection or metal cages on helmets when batting.
  • Coaches and officials need to monitor extreme weather conditions (such as heat or lightning) and postpone or cancel games if players are at risk.
  • Coaches should have quick access to an automated external defibrillator in case a player suffers cardiac arrest, and should be prepared to call 911.
  • Since children develop at different rates, repeated instruction and practice are essential for young baseball and softball players to acquire the basic skills of the game.

Another expert stressed that kids who engage in sports have unique vulnerabilities.

"In order to better appreciate overuse injuries in children, one must understand that kids are not just 'small' adults," explained Dr. Victor Khabie, chief of sports medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y. "There is a significant physiological difference between a growing child and a developmentally mature person," he added.

According to Khabie, who is also co-director of the hospital's Orthopedic and Spine Institute, "children grow via growth plates which are 'growth centers' at the end of bones. When a child complains of elbow or shoulder pain because of excessive pitching or batting, the [cause] is often due to an injury to the growth plate."

The consequences could be serious, he added. "Left untreated, an injured growth plate could lead to permanent damage," Khabie said. "This is why it is important for parents, coaches and trainers working with young ball players to understand the signs and symptoms of overuse baseball and softball injuries and to have the child athlete be evaluated by a sports medicine specialist."

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about youth baseball safety.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCES: Victor Khabie, M.D., chief, department of surgery, co-director, Orthopedic and Spine Institute, and chief, sports medicine, Northern Westchester Hospital, Mount Kisco, N.Y.; American Academy of Pediatrics, news release, Feb. 27, 2012

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