New Youth Baseball Safety Recommendations

Play Ball Safely, With New Baseball Guidelines From Pediatricians

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Feb. 28, 2012 -- As spring training begins, little leaguers should take a lesson from the pros and take care to avoid common baseball injuries.

New safety guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics call for youth baseball coaches and parents to be aware of the potential for overuse and traumatic injuries among young baseball players and take steps to avoid them.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, nearly 110,000 baseball and softball-related injuries were treated in U.S. emergency rooms nationwide in 2007 among children ages 5 to 14. Children between the ages of 11 and 14 account for the biggest proportion of injuries annually.

Although youth baseball is one of the safest high school sports, with a low rate of injury compared to other sports, researchers say the severity of baseball-related injuries is relatively high. For example, broken bones or fractures account for a much larger percentage of total baseball injuries than in other sports.

In addition, baseball is one of the most popular youth sports in the U.S., with more than 8.6 million children ages 6 to 17 playing each year in organized and recreational baseball.

Baseball Overuse Injuries

Overuse injuries like "little league elbow" and "little league shoulder" are a growing concern in youth baseball, especially among pitchers. The repetitive stress of throwing can lead to overuse ligament damage.

To prevent throwing injuries, pediatricians recommend instructing children on proper throwing mechanics, training, and conditioning. They also encourage young athletes to stop playing and seek medical attention when signs of overuse injuries emerge.

"Not everyone may know exactly when an athlete begins to show signs of overuse," says Stephen Rice, MD, co-author of the recommendations, in a news release. "But it is important to know to never pitch when one's arm is tired or sore. Athletes must respect the limits imposed on throwing, including pitch counts and rest periods."

Researchers say young pitchers should also avoid pitching on multiple teams with overlapping seasons or pitching more than eight months in any 12-month period.

Steps to Keep Baseball Players Safe

"Baseball is America's pastime," says researcher Joseph Congeni, MD, in the release. "In order to minimize the risk of injury and maximize enjoyment of the game, coaches, parents, and youth baseball and softball players should be familiar with 'an ounce of prevention' guidelines."

The guidelines, published in Pediatrics, state that all baseball players should wear appropriate protective gear to reduce the risk of injury. These include:

  • For batters: batting helmets with face protection, such as polycarbonate eye protection or metal cages.
  • For catchers: helmets, masks with throat guards, chest protectors, and shin guards.
  • For male players: hard plastic athletic cups.
  • For all players: shoes with rubber-spiked soles.

Other recommendations include:

  • Coaches should be prepared to call 911 and have rapid access to an automated external defibrillator if a player experiences cardiac arrest or a related medical condition.
  • All coaches and officials should be aware of extreme weather conditions, such as excessive heat or lightning, and postpone or cancel games if conditions worsen and players are at risk.
  • Parents and coaches should recognize that not all children will develop at the same rate, and repeated instruction and practice are essential for young baseball and softball players to acquire basic skills while learning the fundamentals of the game.

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SOURCES: Rice, S. Pediatrics, March 2012.News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.

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