Physical Therapy
Take Me Out to the Ballpark

Take Me Out to the Ballpark

Steve Edwards, PT, OCS, CSCS

It is that time of year again. Cleburne and surrounding towns in Johnson County are all a buzz about Softball and Baseball.  Several local High School teams are making deep runs in the State Playoffs, and the Cleburne Railroaders have just now kicked off their season with a big opening crowd.  There was plenty of young boys and girls were running around, playing catch, and simulating the action they were seeing out on the field.  It appears that kids interest and participation in athletics is alive and well here in Johnson County.

However, that is not the case nationwide. The statistics and national numbers show an alarming trend in recent years.   Participation in group sports is down across the board, but for a few fringe sports that are on the rise, such as Lacrosse and Rugby.

The recent news about long term effects of head trauma and concussions might help explain a shift in numbers from Football to other sports. But, the numbers are down for Baseball, Basketball, Softball, Track & Field, and Soccer.    From 2008-2013 the number of kids aged 6-12 participating in above sports dropped by 2.6 Million!

               Basketball: Down 3.9%

               Soccer :  Down 10.7%

               Track & Field:  Down 13.7%

               Baseball:  Down 14.4%

               Football:  Down 28.6%

               Softball:  Down 31.3%

Another alarming trend is the increased incidence of injuries and surgical procedures performed on children and high school athletes.   A Study from 1999 estimated high school athletes accounted for 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits, and 30,000 hospitalizations.  Since 2000, there has been a 5-fold increase in the number of upper extremity  injures of baseball and softball athletes alone. 

Another recent study demonstrated increased incidence of lumbar spine pars fractures.  This can be traced  back to issues of training and athletic development.  It is paramount to have a strong core and good hip and pelvic mobility to keep the spine in safe postures and positions during athletics and sports.

Another study has cited increased incidence of shoulder and elbow injuries associated with “Energy Leaks” form improper technique and not having proper hip and pelvic mobility /stability with throwing athletes. If the lower body is not trained correctly and “doing its job”, the upper body tries to compensate  with increased arm speed, which results in  overuse and trauma to the shoulder and elbow.

Injuries to the inside of the elbow is common in baseball. Trauma to the UCL, Ulnar Collateral Ligament, inside the elbow, associated with pitching has been on a dramatic rise. I am sure most people have heard of “Tommy John Surgery.” 

  • UCL Surgeries up dramatically, and a Study of Database from 2007-2011 showed that age 15-19 is largest demographic, comprising 57% of all surgeries.

There are several factors associated with the increased in Tommy John Surgeries, enough for another article at another time.

Year round participation is a major issue and we see a lot of kids in Physical Therapy from this with Overuse Injuries, which are responsible for about 1/2 of all injures (Safe Kids USE, 2009). We have to do a lot of education with the kids and especially with the parents.

These are some of the Risks of Year Round Participation:

  • Burnout
  • Injury
  • Sacrifices for Short Term Success
  • Lack of Overall Development
  • Lack of an “off season” for training important muscles typically not used in the actual sport

So, in Summary, we have a twofold problem:

  1. Less participation in sports.
  2. Those that are participating are getting injured at an alarming rate.

The cumulative effect of this is a smaller number of athletes to pick from to participate in Olympics and even affects the quality of the overall pool to pick from for Military, Special Forces, National Teams, etc.

  • American Dominance is on the Decline.

So, what is the answer? Experts from The Andrews Institute ( Dr. James Andrews) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) say the following:

  1. Keep it fun, especially for the younger ones
  2. Participate in Multiple Sports. Studies show that the best athletes are the ones that play multiple sports. In fact, playing a variety of sports leads to improved performance in the athlete’s preferred sport
  3. Avoid Specialization and Year Round Participation. This leads to burnout and overuse injuries
  4. No Specialization until age 17