Sports Medicine Specialist Dr. Victor Khabie Emphasizes Prevention for Young Athletes for an Injury Free Baseball Season

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“Although baseball is a non-contact sport, most serious injuries are due to contact — either with a ball, a bat, or another player,” says sports medicine specialist Dr. Victor Khabie of Somers Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine Group. “The repetitive nature of the sport can also cause overuse injuries to the shoulder and elbow, especially for youngsters who pitch. The good news is that improved equipment now offers increased protection and many injuries can be prevented by taking common-sense precautions.”

In the spring, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of...baseball! Our national pastime continues to attract young players in huge numbers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that as many as 6 million children under the age of 18 are in leagues and another 13 million play on their own. But while baseball is generally considered a fairly safe sport, over the period 1994-2006, more than 1.5 million of these children were injured seriously enough to be treated in emergency rooms. Most of the injuries were minor – muscle pulls (strains), ligament injuries (sprains), cuts and bruises – and more than 98 percent of patients were treated in the emergency room and released. But 24,350 required hospitalization, mostly for fractures and concussions.

“Although baseball is a non-contact sport, most serious injuries are due to contact — either with a ball, a bat, or another player,” says sports medicine specialist Dr. Victor Khabie of Somers Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine Group. “The repetitive nature of the sport can also cause overuse injuries to the shoulder and elbow, especially for youngsters who pitch. The good news is that improved equipment now offers increased protection and many injuries can be prevented by taking common-sense precautions.”

Dr, Khabie suggests that players, parents and coaches focus on three areas to minimize the risk of injury: preparation, the right equipment and knowing a child's limits.

PREPARATION

  •     Physical exam: Before the season begins, every player should have a complete sports physical that includes a check of overall health and a complete injury history as well as testing for strength, endurance and flexibility.
  •     Pre-season conditioning: Many injuries occur at the beginning of the season when kids are more likely to be out of shape. Strength and general conditioning should begin several months before the season starts, should be designed for baseball and should incorporate specific exercises for the position played. For example, catchers, because they have to squat continuously, should do exercises that develop strength and flexibility of the muscles around the knees, especially those of the thighs and calves. For all players but especially pitchers, the shoulder is the area most prone to injury and should be stretched and strengthened before the season.
  •     Pre-game warmup: Cold muscles are most prone to injury. While warming up is always important, it is particularly critical during a child's growth spurt when muscles and tendons are tight. A proper warm-up begins with light aerobic exercise – 5 to 10 minutes of jogging at an easy pace followed by a five-minute recovery period. Experts now recommend that a warmup include dynamic stretching – stretching muscles while moving, which has been shown to improve power, flexibility and range of motion. The more familiar static stretching – remaining stationary while holding the stretch for 20-30 seconds – is recommended for after games and practices.

EQUIPMENT
Injuries to young baseball players declined by 25% from 1994 to 2006 and one possible reason is improvements in equipment. Softer safety baseballs offer increased protection from being hit by a ball, breakaway bases have lowered the number of strains, sprains and broken bones and, in one study, there were no facial injuries to players wearing helmets with face guards. Catchers must always use a catcher's mitt and wear a helmet, face mask, throat guard, long-model chest protector, protective supporter, and shin guards. All players should wear properly fitted (not handed down!) molded, cleated baseball shoes and youngsters who wear glasses must have shatter-proof lenses and sports frames.

LIMITS
Overuse injuries can be prevented by not allowing a child to play on more than one team in a season and by not playing and training for a single sport all year round. Strictly enforcing pitch count and innings limits is critical for protecting young pitchers. According to a study by the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI), youth baseball pitchers throwing more than 100 innings in a calendar year are 3.5 times more likely to be so seriously injured as to require elbow or shoulder surgery or retirement due to injury. “No child should think it's OK to play through pain,” says Dr. Khabie. “Persistent pain is a sign of an overuse or acute injury and should keep a child out of the game until the pain subsides. An injured child should see a doctor, follow all the doctor's orders and get the doctor's OK before playing again.”

Along with ensuring that a child learns proper technique, these precautions can help every young player enjoy an injury-free baseball season. “Coaches and parents can also help prevent injuries by creating an atmosphere of healthy competition and not pushing kids to win at all costs,” Dr. Khabie concludes. “Putting too much focus on winning can make a child risk serious harm by ignoring the signs of injury and playing in pain. Above all, we want our kids to have fun.”

Victor Khabie, M.D., F.A.A.O.S., F.A.C.S. – A specialist in sports medicine, Dr. Khabie serves as team physician for Pace University athletics, Newburgh Free Academy athletics, as well as for many high school, collegiate and professional athletes and is a ringside physician for the New York State Athletic Commission, caring for professional boxers. Dr. Khabie is a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon with Somers Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine and chief of Surgery and Sports Medicine, and Co-Director of the Orthopedic and Spine Institute, Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, NY. He received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School, followed by an internship in general surgery at the New York University School of Medicine, where he currently is an assistant clinical professor in the department of orthopaedic surgery. Dr. Khabie is a diplomat of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. http://www.somersortho.com

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MELISSA CHEFEC
MCPR
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