Monday, September 17, 2012

Preventing Shoulder Injuries in Youth Athletes

Youth sports injuries can end an athletic career before it ever has a chance to begin, and yet few parents are aware of steps their young athletes can take to help avoid injury. Likewise, many athletes and parents are unaware that some of the most severe, and preventable, injuries are of the "non-contact" variety.
Non-contact injuries are injuries that occur without direct contact and include overuse injuries, ankle sprains, and the majority of shoulder injuries. These injuries become surgical issues because alterations in joint mechanics and muscle tension result in overload and tearing of the shoulder joint structures.
So just what should concerned parents and young athletes be doing to prevent these injuries? Start with a preventative evaluation and then make a comprehensive warm-up routine part of every athletic outing.
Preventative Evaluation
Going beyond the basic pre-participation sports physical, a 30 - 60 minute evaluation can assist in identifying your young athlete's strengths and weaknesses along with establishing a baseline for future comparison in the event of sports related pain or injury. It's important to establish this starting point so it will be easier to track healing and recovery.
Warm Ups Help Prevent Injuries
One of the most common complaints reported among young athletes is shoulder injuries, so this article, and several others to follow, will focus on those injuries. The good news is, as your youth athlete takes to the field, there are some things you can do to assist in preventing shoulder injuries.
One of the most important parts of practice, the warm-up is often under stressed. Often times coaches instruct their players to go warm up and players are left to use their own judgement in to assess when they are ready to play. As a result, the youth tend to discredit the warm-up and spend time chatting instead of properly warming up. It is important that these athletes be instructed on proper warm up stretching and throwing protocols. This is especially important during the early season and spring league games.
But you may be surprised to learn that warm ups should ideally begin well before the season does. Players should begin throwing at least one to two months prior to the start of practice. This will ensure that arm strength and endurance is appropriate and will decrease the occurrence of the injuries caused by fatigue. Just taking the time to get outside or within a facility is important, it would be much better to follow a tiered plan designed to assist in increasing arm strength and endurance. The following is a suggested program designed to have you ready for the season. Remember that soreness may be normal when beginning any program, but taking an extra day off when this occurs is important. It is also suggested that a pitcher be able to complete this program prior to setting foot on the mound.
Interval Throwing Program
The Interval Throwing Program is a safe program to follow if you have had a shoulder injury or a long layoff from throwing competitively. Throwers who are returning to throwing after injury or getting ready to start the season should follow the interval-throwing program, exactly, on an every-other-day basis. The criteria to progress from step to step are that the throwing session was pain free and there is no residual soreness the next day. For throwers who are free of injury, but returning to throwing after a lay-off period, follow the interval-throwing program, on an every-other-day basis, without the rest periods. You should use the 'crow-hop' method for each throw when performing the interval throwing session. The 'crow-hop' method consists of first a hop, then a skip, followed by the throw. This method helps simulate the throwing act, allowing emphasis on total body mechanics involved in the act of throwing. The path of the ball should be an arcing trajectory, not on a flat line trajectory. You should avoid throwing flat-footed to avoid placing excess stress on the throwing shoulder in your training program.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding this program or the best course of exercise for your particular sport, position, or injury, contact a sports medicine chiropractor for more information.