It’s almost that time of year again when kids are ready to hit the field and play baseball! It’s one of the most beloved youth sports in the U.S. and around the world and a great way for young people to get out and be active. But like all youth sports, there is the danger of injury if young athletes aren’t careful.

Every year, preventable injuries force hundreds of Little Leaguers to the bench for the rest of the season. The most common issues usually occur in the shoulders and elbows thanks to vigorous throwing, but there are other possible injuries parents and coaches should be aware of as well. Let’s look at some of these issues and see what can be done to keep players injury free this season.


Protecting Young Shoulders and Elbows

By far the most common Little League-related injuries we see in our office are shoulder and elbow injuries. Throwing a baseball can put a lot of strain on these joints, causing problems with ligament and muscle strains and tears. These injuries can range from minor strains that only require rest and physical therapy, all the way to career-ending tears which are extremely painful and could require multiple surgeries to correct.

The one thing these injuries have in common is that they tend to stem from arms that are not strong enough for the strain put upon them. Much like any other sport, youth baseball requires players to participate in regular stretching and strengthening exercises to train their arm joints to handle the stress of throwing. Before each game and as part of practice sessions, warm-ups are essential to injury prevention.

Another common cause leading to elbow and shoulder injury is poor coaching. Responsible coaches (and parents) should monitor the number of pitches each player is throwing in a week – this count includes practice pitches, not just those thrown in games. There are clear guidelines for each age range for injury prevention purposes:

  • Ages 8-10 should throw no more than 75 pitches per week
  • Ages 11-12 should throw no more than 100 pitches per week
  • Ages 13-14 should throw no more than 125 pitches per week
  • Ages 15-18 should limit to two games per week

Types of pitches also have very clear guidelines based on age. The pitching guidelines exist because certain pitches require more strength than others and throwing them too early can lead to severe injury. The standard rules of thumb are:

  • Age 8: Fastball
  • Age 10: Changeup
  • Age 14: Curveball
  • Age 16: Slider
  • Age 17: Screwball

For parents with a particularly talented player, pay close attention to how often they are expected to throw the ball. It is not uncommon for players who are more advanced to be pushed harder than others on their team, both by their own motivation and that of their coaches. Ensure their abilities don’t force them into a position that is potentially harmful to their health.


Arms Aren’t the Only Problem

While elbow and shoulder injuries often get the most coverage in the world of Little League, other injuries are also common, including impact injuries from being struck with a ball or leg injuries due to sprinting or sliding.

To protect against impact injuries, all players should wear helmets, and the catcher should be wearing proper padding. The playing field should also have protective fencing around the dugout and other seating areas.

All players should learn how to slide feet first into the bases properly. Proper form helps prevent strains and sprains in the ankles. Proper footwear also helps to prevent leg injuries while running to bases or while trying to catch the ball.


Preventing A Season-Ending Injury

By following these simple tips, you can help to prevent injuries in your Little Leaguer:

  • Stretch – Before every practice and game, players should make sure to go through a full body stretching routine and warm up. There’s no harm in focusing on the elbows and shoulders, or in making strengthening exercises a regular part of this routine.
  • Switch Positions – Little Leaguers shouldn’t be overly specialized. They should rotate positions on a regular basis so that they are participating in a variety of movements over the season. Young players who are asked to pitch in every game are setting themselves up for problems.
  • Don’t Play Through Pain – If the player complains of pain, pull them out of the game. Pain is the body’s way of saying something is wrong. If the elbow or shoulder is involved, it is possible that a repetitive use injury is causing the pain and the player should rest the area that hurts. If the pain continues even after a rest period or begins again once they start playing, then it might be time to see a doctor.
  • Rest – Little League players should have a rest period of at least a day between pitching games. This recovery time is necessary to prevent injuries from overuse.
  • Don’t Play Year-Round – As stated in the last bullet point, rest is important for young athletes. For Little League aged youth, year-round play is too much. The recommendation is that children not be allowed to play baseball more than eight months out of the year. Allowing them to participate in other activities is beneficial for preventing injury, as they are developing additional strength by less specialized movement.
  • Use Proper Form – Whether pitching, running, or sliding into home, players should be taught good form in all areas of baseball. Knowing the proper way to do things helps muscles support weak areas and prevents a sudden unexpected injury.
  • Use Proper Equipment – Helmets, padding and appropriate footwear all work together to keep athletes safe on the field. Make sure that players are wearing the right size equipment and that their gear hasn’t worn out – remember; growing bodies can outsize equipment quickly.

If There Is Pain…

If your young athlete has experienced an injury or a pain that just won’t go away, it’s probably time to give us a call. We will evaluate the issue and help to find the best course of action for getting them out on the field as soon as possible!