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Girl Softball Players Suffering More Shoulder Injuries

Too much throwing, too little conditioning may be to blame, study says

FRIDAY, Feb. 12 (HealthDay News) -- While shoulder injuries among boys playing high school baseball are common among pitchers, the same injuries among girl softball players are becoming common in several positions, a new study finds.

Moreover, these injuries tended to occur among boys during games, while among the girls shoulder injuries occurred most often during practice, the researchers say.

"Injuries occurring in high school baseball and softball are primarily in the shoulder and are pretty serious," said researcher Kieran J. Fogarty, an associate professor at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.

"In baseball, these injuries are primarily with the pitchers; in softball we are seeing it with the first baseman, the catcher, and is equally distributed amongst most of the positions," he said.

Fogarty thinks softball injuries are due to lack of good training among these female high school athletes.

"There should be more emphasis on training the softball players as far as physical conditioning goes," he said.

High schools should employ athletic trainers and be aware of these repetitive-motion injuries, Fogarty added.

The report was released online Feb. 8 in advance of publication in the March print issue of Pediatrics.

For the study, Fogarty's team collected data on baseball and softball injuries for the 2005-2008 academic years from about 74 U.S. high schools. These data came from the High School Reporting Information Online.

Over the study period, the researchers identified 91 shoulder injuries among baseball players and 40 among softball players. The most common injuries were strains and tears accounting for 30.8 percent of the baseball and 35 percent of the softball injuries. Most of the softball injuries, 68.2 percent, happened during throwing, but not pitching, during practice. Only 23.5 percent of the injuries occurred during games.

Among baseball players, pitching during practice accounted for 41.9 percent of the shoulder injuries, while 25.6 percent occurred during competition, the researchers found. In fact, baseball players who sustained a shoulder injury were more than twice as likely to be pitchers.

The vast majority of injuries among both baseball and softball players were new. Among baseball players, 10 percent of the injuries required surgery as did 5.3 percent of the softball injuries. Most of the surgeries were for injuries sustained by pitchers, Fogarty noted.

Dr. Karen Sheehan, medical director of Injury Prevention and Research Center at Children's Memorial Hospital and medical director of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Chicago, said that "both softball and baseball athletes have similar rates of shoulder injury with muscle strain being the most common injury."

Sheehan added, "Although it is not yet clear how to prevent shoulder injuries, proper stretching and conditioning are likely to be key along with improved throwing and pitching biomechanics."

"What surprised me was the injury to girls," said another expert, Dr. Robert Gotlin, director of Sports Rehabilitation at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.

"We have always been under the supposition that girls' softball windmill motion would be not one that would cause injury to the shoulder," he said.

Gotlin thinks that the bottom line is these girls, both pitchers and fielders, are just throwing too much like the boys.

"It looks like it comes down to just usage," he said. "We do have to pay attention to the problem much more than we thought."

Girls have become just as competitive as the boys, Gotlin added. "There is a lot higher level of play," he explained.

Gotlin thinks girls, like boys, need to vary their physical activity, and not concentrate on one sport, to limit the danger of repetitive-motion injuries.

"We need to pay more attention and not assume, as we did, that these injuries wouldn't happen," he stated. "It's not the mechanics; it's the overload."

More information

To find out about sports injuries, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

SOURCES: Kieran J. Fogarty, Ph.D., associate professor, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Mich.; Karen Sheehan, M.D., medical director, Injury Prevention and Research Center, Children's Memorial Hospital, and medical director, Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Chicago; Robert Gotlin, D.O., director, Sports Rehabilitation, Beth Israel Medical Center, New York City; Feb. 8, 2010, Pediatrics, online

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