Shoulder injuries can be devastating for professional baseball players. Shoulder injuries can stop younger players from getting the game time they need to improve and rise up the ranks. For older players, shoulder injuries can be career-enders.
But it's not just professional baseball players who need to worry about shoulder injuries. Shoulder injuries also affect the well-being and enjoyment of children and youth who play recreational baseball.
In a 2002 study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, nearly half of the youth pitchers studied reported suffering from shoulder or elbow pain at least once during the season.
These issues can worsen over time if not addressed, seriously affecting a youth's ability not just to participate in sport, but also in everyday activities.
It's important for both young players and their parents to understand the often easily preventable causes of shoulder problems in young baseball players, and how to prevent or manage thesm so they can continue to enjoy and improve in the sport.
Causes Often Overloooked
Here are some causes of shoulder problems in young players that are often overlooked by parents and coaches.
- Early specialization: So many kids these days only play one sport during their young lives. By only playing one sport, they are made to perform the same movements over and over. While this may sound like it helps kids become better at a sport, the opposite is actually true. Early specialization prevents kids from being exposed to the wide range of movements and athletic qualities they need, and it contributes to overuse injuries. A solid foundation is vital for developing the athleticism needed to succeed in sports as kids get older, as well as helping to create well-balanced athletes less prone to imbalance and injury.
- Overtraining: It is becoming increasingly common for kids to play one sport all year without much of a break. Kids will often be involved in summer camps and off-season tournaments in addition to the regular season. This means they're performing the same sporting movements year-round, and their arms and shoulders aren't given time to rest. Taking a break from a sport is vital for helping kids recover properly. In fact, sufficient recovery is just as important for progress as quality training.
- Excessive use of technology: Kids have access to all sorts of technology these days, including smartphones, tablets, and video game systems. Spending lots of time using such devices can make their posture worse. Their shoulders round forward and their heads move forward. This carries over as they stand, walk and exercise, and can put their shoulders at risk by being in a poor position before they even start to move.
Keeping Shoulders Healthy and Pain Free
Fortunately, there are a few things young baseball players and their parents can do to keep the shoulders healthy and pain-free so they can continue to enjoy and improve in the sport:
- Exposure to a wide range of activities: It's vitally important for kids to develop foundational athletic skills while young. These skills include balance, hand-eye coordination, running over different distances and intensities, agility and more. And don't think these can only be developed through organized sports: Recreation and play time is incredibly important and can expose kids to a rich variety of movements and skills. Learning to swim is another great activity for kids. Not only does it give them a skill that could save a life one day, but it also opens up options for ways to rehabilitate a sports injury later in life. You'd be surprised at how many professional adult athletes I've met who don't know how to swim. This limits some of our options for recovery days.
- Keep an eye on posture: Encourage your kids to sit up straight! We all have memories of our parents or grandparents telling us to sit up straight. Well, they were right! Proper posture is huge for shoulder health and the position of the head. The neck and shoulder muscles can get stressed out with poor posture. Simply having good posture keeps the shoulder blade and core muscles working well, and this is important for quality athletic movement.
- Strengthen muscles in the shoulder. Exercises that strengthen the rotator cuff, scapular muscles and core muscles are a great place to start for young baseball players. By strengthening these muscles, we make sure they are able to handle the stress of pitching.
Sue Falsone spent six years as an athletic trainer and physical therapist with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the last two as the first female head athletic trainer for any major professional sports team. She's currently Head of Athletic Training and Sport Performance for the US Men's National Soccer team. For more information, please see visit her website at suefalsone.com.