Little League Syndrome

Injuries have become a prevalent part of the game of baseball in today's day and age as is evident by the increasing number of Major Leaguers who spend time on the disabled list during the course of a season. This trend is alarming enough for the grown men on big league rosters but what is even more distressing is the growing number of injuries to adolescent baseball players.

Much has been said about Little League Syndrome which can include trauma to the elbow or shoulder. Injuries are of particular concern to children because their bones are growing and these injuries can affect the growth process. Little League Syndrome is due to excessive strain on tendons and ligaments from repetitive overhand movements such as throwing a baseball. These overhand movements can cause ligaments and tendons to stretch, tear or pull off the bone. In the shoulder, the growth plate is extremely vulnerable to damage since it is made up of softer, more vulnerable tissue. I can speak to this as I fractured my growth plate when I was 13 years old. My shoulder could not take the stress I was putting on it while pitching/throwing.

The medical community is acutely aware of this serious problem affecting a large number of youth athletes. The remedy most doctors and trainers prescribe to treat or prevent injury to young athletes is pitch counts and rest. This is not a solution to the problem, just a way to manage it. The real issue stems from the fact that we are asking kids seven to 16 years of age to perform the same activities as fully grown men in the Major Leagues, yet in most instances they do not train or prepare even a fraction as much. These children's muscles, tendons and ligaments are weaker to begin with and very little is done to prepare them for the extra stress that the game of baseball will put on them.

The medical community recommends rehabilitation exercises to strengthen the shoulder and arm as well as to regain the range of motion after injury. These exercises are usually successful, yet more should be done before injury as "prehabilitation" work so fewer kids end up with arm problems. Because doctors and trainers are focused on the facets of rehab, it is the duty of coaches and parents to prepare these adolescents for the stress of baseball, tennis, volleyball or any other sport which requires repetitive overhand movements so they will not end up in a doctor's office.

Before I fractured my growth plate, the only type of training I did for baseball was when I actually played in practice and games. I never did anything to strengthen my shoulder, arm, or core so that it could better take the stress of throwing a ball. Because of this my muscles, tendons and ligaments were unable to take the stress and my bones (growth plate) had to carry the load. Unfortunately, not much has changed among the majority of youth players. In fact, with the introduction of year round travel teams, kids are playing even more and preparing even less. This puts a greater amount of players at a higher risk of experiencing some type of arm injury.

What these active kids need is functional strength training. By this I do not mean weight training because by adding weights you will put extra stress on their growing frames, not to mention the damage that can result if they have incorrect form. Children need higher reps and lower resistance exercises. Activities using their body weight such as bridges (to develop core strength) or gymnastic ring exercises (push ups, pull-ups and rows) are great because they are only having to move their own weight, while stabilizing their core, which is exactly what they have to do during competition. Other exercises such as using medicine balls, ropes or Speed Chains are beneficial since the athletes will only be able to move as fast and as much as they are capable of without the danger of overloading their bodies with extra stress.

The majority of youth athletes are not strong enough to control their own body and this puts them at a greater risk of injury since they often end up in weak or inefficient positions which add stress to their tendons and ligaments. I challenge you to find time to help ensure your young athletes train for their sport in addition to playing it. This will help strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments in their bodies that they rely upon while playing. Their body, in return, will be prepared to handle the stress and will be less vulnerable to the injuries such as those associated with Little League Syndrome.

If you want to know more about the benefits Speed Chains can have for youth athletes check out:

Until next time,

Brian Oates

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