Researchers find arm pain of youth baseball players is preventable

November 10, 2014

Topic: common baseball injuries, concussions

Researchers from Columbia University discovered that arm pain is very prevalent among healthy youth baseball players.

Researchers from Columbia University discovered that arm pain is very prevalent among healthy youth baseball players. However, research showed that nearly half of the players studied kept playing despite the pain. The findings were published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

A rising concern
Overuse injuries are some of the most common baseball injuries. The National Institutes of Health stated that approximately 5 percent of youth pitchers sustain an elbow or shoulder injury within 10 years of playing. The amount of pitches per game, innings per season and months pitched each year all play a role in baseball injuries. Poor pitching or improper form can also contribute to injuries. Athletes who play catcher in a game are also at risk.

The study authors believe their findings indicate a greater need for overuse injury prevention methods, such as individual screenings. The survey was incredibly in-depth, finding that both nationally and internationally players are experiencing a significant amount of elbow and shoulder injuries. The researchers noted the injuries may be caused by excessive throwing at a very young age. This continual motion puts an incredible demand on the bodies that they may not be prepared for.

"Despite current guidelines and precautions--for example, limiting pitch counts and emphasizing off-season rest--many players are still sustaining overuse injury to their throwing arm," study author Christopher Ahmad, M.D. said in a statement. "Thus, it's vital that we develop better ways for coaches, parents, and clinicians to identify players at risk so we can prevent irreversible injury and season-ending surgery."

The survey's results
The survey found that 74 percent of players often deal with arm pain while playing baseball. Only 26 percent noted never experiencing pain. The study authors also discovered that 80 percent stated having pain after throwing, 82 percent stated having arm fatigue during practices or games, 54 percent acknowledged that arm pain limited their playing time and 75 percent believed that arm pain restricted them in how hard they could throw.

Pitchers were more likely than any other position to deal with arm pain. Approximately 25 percent of pitchers stated they always had pain after throwing. This group is especially high-risk for overuse injuries, the researchers noted.

A faulty choice
About 47 percent of players stated they were encouraged to keep playing in a game or even practice despite having arm pain. One in eight players who were between the ages of 17 and 18 noted feeling pushed to play 100 percent of the time. Arm pain caused many of the athletes to enjoy their game less and play poorly.

The researchers felt alarmed that so many players were encouraged to keep playing despite the pain they were in. They acknowledged a similar thing happening in football with concussions years earlier, putting the football players at risk for permanent brain damage.

"I think we're seeing a similar problem in baseball, where playing with arm pain is setting the stage for more serious injury," Ahmad said in a statement.

The researchers suspect this behavior has caused a spike in Tommy John surgeries among college and professional baseball players. This type of surgery reconstructs the elbow's ulnar collateral ligament. It was named after a professional baseball pitcher who first underwent the surgery.

The study authors believe that the current guidelines are not sufficient enough for preventing these types of injuries. Certain precautions, such as pitch counts, may be inaccurate because of an inconsistent body size in youth. For example, one 14 year old may be fully developed, where another may not have even begun growing. Individualized throwing programs may be the only concrete solution for discovering which players are vulnerable to injury. 

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