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Playing Catch in Winter Could Save Kids' Pitching Arms

Early practice for youngsters can reduce risk of shoulder injury, physician to pros says

TUESDAY, Dec. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Playing catch with your young pitcher months before baseball season can help prevent an increasingly common pediatric pitching pitfall: torn rotator cuff injuries, according to doctors at Methodist Hospital in Houston.

The data suggest that two factors - a high pitch count and throwing curve balls -- increases the risk of shoulder pain in young pitchers. Easing into baseball season by beginning practice in December may help reduce the risk of such shoulder injuries.

"Most high school athletes go from football to basketball and then start throwing a baseball at full speed," Dr. David Lintner, an orthopedic surgeon who serves as head team physician for the Houston Astros, said in a prepared statement. Lintner reported seeing more and more high school pitchers with torn rotator cuffs. "The problem is that their arms are not in baseball shape, and they open themselves up to serious rotator cuff problems."

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and their tendons that connect the shoulder blade to the upper arm bone. Pain and/or weakness in the shoulder as well as difficulty raising an arm over the head may signal damage to the rotator cuff, which in turn can lead to problems with the rest of the pitching arm.

"Pitchers should play catch, not pitch off the mound, for a few minutes every day beginning in December, and gradually increase throwing as it gets closer to the start of spring training," recommended Lintner.

Lintner also suggested that young pitchers start a weight-training program focusing on multiple repetitions of three- to five-pound weights, aiming for flexibility and strength, not bulk. Pitchers will also benefit from strengthening their upper body and legs, adding speed to their fastball but reducing stress on their arm, he said.

More information

To learn more about rotator cuff injuries, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

-- Madeline Vann

SOURCE: Methodist Hospital, news release, December 2007

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