Preventing injuries: From pros to youth leagues

June 27th, 2016

Baseball is a very safe sport. Still, like all sports, it carries some risk of injury. Fortunately, there's a lot that players, parents, trainers and coaches can do to minimize the risk. Whether you're a professional player or a young person still dreaming of breaking into the big leagues, knowledge is key for preventing injuries.
Injuries from overuse
Sudden injuries -- getting hit with a fastball, twisting a knee on a slide into home -- can strike at any time. "But the majority of baseball injuries are what we call overuse injuries, which are injuries resulting from repetitive but typical athletic movements that occur over time," says Robert Najarian, MD, a Washington Nationals Team Physician and part of the Inova Sports Medicine Team. In fact, Inova Sports Medicine is responsible for the medical care of all the Nationals players in conjunction with the Nationals medical staff. This has been a perfect match due to both organizations' comprehensive care and focus on injury prevention.
The Inova Sports Medicine team's approach to care extends well beyond the professional athletes they treat to their other patients, too, from the weekend warrior to the youth league player. Naturally, Dr. Najarian has seen the full spectrum of overuse injuries. And while they can affect any player, he says pitchers are especially susceptible to overuse injuries of the shoulder, elbow and wrist. "Pitchers sustain the majority of overuse injuries, both among amateurs and professionals," Dr. Najarian says.
The first signs of these injuries might be subtle: A pitcher might notice his speed or accuracy is a little bit off. He or she might start to have mild pain. Those are signs that shouldn't be ignored.
Dr. Najarian and the Inova team treat overuse injuries with rest, physical therapy and applicable medications. With the right treatment, a player can often get back in the game in a short period of time. But ignoring the warning signs and playing through the pain can lead to problems that are even worse down the road, such as torn ligaments. What's more, players sometimes compensate for mild pain by slightly changing the mechanics of their pitch. That shift in form can also put them at greater risk for a sudden injury. "If you push through, sudden injuries are more likely," Dr. Najarian adds.
Preventing injuries: What the pros know
The good news is that players can take steps to reduce the risk of painful injuries that will put them on the sidelines.
Good nutrition is important for keeping the body in top form. Strength training and conditioning are also critical. Players should warm up before and stretch after a workout or game, Dr. Najarian says. And all players can take a tip from the pros, who follow stringent conditioning programs and schedules -- and for good reason. Keeping muscles and joints strong (and resting them sufficiently between workouts) is essential for preventing injuries.
It's also important to be candid about potential injuries, Dr. Najarian says. Coaches and training staff usually have a good read on their players and can often tell when something is off. By being open and honest about any concerns, players, coaches and team physicians can spot potential problems early and treat small problems before they become major issues.
Players also have to be honest with themselves if something doesn't feel right. After all, a few days of rest and physical therapy are always better than surgery and/or a season on the sidelines.
Kids and baseball: Preventing injuries in youth sports
Unfortunately, pro athletes aren't the only players susceptible to sports injuries. In fact, overuse injuries are becoming an increasing problem among younger athletes.
"There's increased pressure for kids to excel by practicing a single sport year-round," Dr. Najarian says. That's worrisome, since rest periods between seasons are so important for preventing overuse injuries. Kids should also rotate through positions, he adds, rather than focusing on perfecting their pitch year-round.
The USA Baseball Medical & Safety Advisory Committee has issued guidelines for the number and types of pitches young players should pitch per game, week, season and year. These pitch count limits help parents and coaches ensure that youth players are minimizing the odds of injury.
"Most of these injuries are preventable," Dr. Najarian says. "It's so important that parents and coaches are informed about the risks of playing too much."
For kids who dream of making it to the pros, it can sometimes be hard to put a limit on their practice schedule. But by taking care of their bodies and doing all they can to prevent injuries, players will maximize the chance of long-term success. Dr. Najarian and the rest of the Inova Sports Medicine Team are committed to helping all athletes feel and play their best. "As I often remind my young players, they won't make it to the big leagues if they burn out before the end of high school," he says. And he would know.
If you think you or your child may need an injury evaluation, make an appointment to see one of Inova's doctors or athletic trainers by calling 703-970-6464 or visiting Inova Sports Medicine.