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More kids falling prey to sports injuries

April 9, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Baseball and softball aren't traditionally considered dangerous sports, but many orthopedic surgeons feel they are.High school pitcher Chris Widdup can throw the heat. "Anywhere from like 81 to 83 miles an hour."

But using that power took a toll on his arm. "Especially when I picked up a baseball, it was throbbing."

Doctors said surgery was his best option.

"What we're finding is that parents are pushing their kids harder. They're starting earlier. They're playing more months of the year. It's leading to more problems," said orthopedic surgeon Joseph Guettler from Beaumont Hospital in Detroit.

Guettler, a leading sports medicine specialist, says the number of kids in his practice having elbow reconstruction, or Tommy John surgeries, is nearly 16 times higher today compared to the mid 90s. "If you injure yourself when you're young, it can have repercussions when you're older. You can develop arthritis. You can develop rotator cuff problems."

Researchers from Rush University Medical Center are using high-speed cameras and equipment to study an athlete's arm motion, hoping to develop safer pitching strategies.

For adolescents, doctors say limit play to 6-8 months a year. No more than 80-100 pitches per game. Get 4-5 days rest between games. No curve balls before age 14 because they put added strain on the elbow. And contrary to popular belief, softball "windmill" pitching puts twice the stress on the bicep as overhand pitching.

"As an athlete, you push through. You don't just stop," said softball player Missy Beseres.

"There needs to be some restrictions on how much they throw and how often," countered Dr. Nikhil Verma, a sports medicine specialist at Rush University Medical Center.

Surgery fixed Chris's arm. Now he knows his limits.

The American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine recently launched a nationwide study on baseball pitching injuries in kids.

The goal is to understand the impact of the injuries on a child's growth plates and find ways to predict problems before they happen.

Web Extra Information

EARLY AGE INJURIES:

About 25 percent of youth baseball players experiences elbow pain, and pitchers are found to have the highest rate of osteochondral lesions, tears or fractures in the cartilage covering one of the bones in a joint. According to Cedars-Sinai, the cartilage can be torn, crushed or damaged, and in some rare cases, cysts can form in the cartilage. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has reported that throwing arm injuries among the youth baseball programs are on the rise. Some of the injuries cause players to be out of play for a season, may require surgery, and in some cases, may cause permanent damage. Because the increase of youth throwing arm injuries, there are now more cases of ligament reconstruction, also known as "Tommy John" surgeries.

TOMMY JOHN SURGERY:

Tommy John surgery is a procedure where a damaged elbow ligament-- the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) -- is replaced with a tendon from a healthy ligament from elsewhere in the body. The popular surgery is named after the Hall of Fame pitcher Tommy John. Tommy John was the first person to have the surgery in 1974. This surgery alone allowed him to return to the major leagues and win 164 games. Prior to this surgery, an athlete's career would be reconsidered. Studies have proven the success of the surgery and have demonstrated that 83 percent of athletes who undergo Tommy John Surgery were able to return to their previous level of competition or higher. The average time from surgery to full competition was 11.6 months. "The increase in the number of UCL reconstructions being done now can be attributed to many things: improved diagnostic techniques, heightened awareness, increased chance of positive outcome with current surgical techniques, but most importantly, the overuse of young throwing arms," E. Lyle Cain, M.D., fellowship director for the American Sports Medicine Institute, Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., was quoted as saying.

YOUTH BASEBALL PITCHING GUIDELINES:

The American Sports Medicine Institute has outlined an appropriate pitch count, pitching skills and appropriate pitches per age group to protect against youth throwing injuries. For 9- to 10-year-old pitchers, it is safe to throw 50 pitches a game, 75 a week, 1,000 a season, and 2,000 pitches a year. For 11- to 12-year-old pitchers, it is safe to pitch 75 pitches a game, 100 a week, 1,000 per season, and 3,000 pitches per year. For 13- to 15-year-old pitchers, it is deemed safe to throw 75 pitches a game, 125 a week, 1,000 per season, and 3,000 pitches a year. The guidelines also recommend mastering pitch control, command, velocity and ball movement (in that order). Lastly, the guidelines suggest that certain types of pitches are not appropriate for young pitchers. At the age of 8, pitchers may throw fastballs. At 10, pitchers may throw change-ups. At 14, pitchers may throw curveballs. At 15, pitchers may throw knuckleballs. At 16, they can throw sliders. At 17, they can throw screwballs.


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