By Sue Hubbard, M.D.
With the arrival of spring comes a new season of baseball, softball, track and field. This also means that kids need to be prepared to play.
Professional ballplayers spend 4-6 weeks in spring training preparing for the season, but for many kids the spring sports season starts without any serious practice. Some kids have not been active during the winter, while others have been playing only indoor sports. Their bodies may not be quite ready for "full steam ahead" play.
I'm already seeing patients - both boys and girls - complaining of muscle strains and sprains. Kids need to get into shape for throwing, hitting, pitching and fielding over time. But no one seems to understand the word "gradual" these days! Kids want to play ball and they may want to impress their coaches, as well. They're being watched to determine who plays which position, the batting line up, etc. which may make some athletes try to throw too much or too hard when they first start back.
Parents (and coaches) need to encourage daily pre-activity warm ups and stretching followed by light throwing to prepare the body to increase activity and intensity over several weeks, rather than days.
Kids need to learn proper throwing mechanics, which will not only improve efficiency but also help control stress on the body. The shoulder joint is held together almost entirely by muscles. Developing strength and endurance in the key muscle groups that keep the shoulder stable helps prevent fatigue.
The same goes for pitching. Strict adherence to pitch counts, and well as following the recommended rest period between pitching sessions helps prevent overuse injuries. I've already seen a high school baseball player with elbow pain who admitted to me that he was pitching far more curve balls and fast balls than the 'official' limit. He doesn't realize the stress he's placing on his body and it's still very early in the season. He wasn't thrilled when I told him he needed a week off to rest before he started back, and then to practice much less aggressively. He has a few more years of high school ball before he even thinks about college baseball and he needs to stay healthy.
Remember to use ice as an anti-inflammatory, as well as ibuprofen. And if shoulders or elbows are already hurting, try a slower spring re-entry into throwing and pitching.
Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at www.kidsdr.com
This was printed in the August 11, 2013 - August 24, 2013 Edition