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Protecting Your Little Athlete

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Each year, nearly 5 million American youngsters play baseball or softball. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, between 2 and 8 percent of these children are injured.

Anthony Pierro, 11, of Fort Lee, N.J., wishes he was whizzing fastballs over home plate. But a shoulder injury has sidelined him from his favorite position, reports The Saturday Early Show.

"I was on the mound and just one sudden pitch, I felt my arm hurt, and I said to my coach, 'My arm hurts and I don't want to throw.'" Anthony recalls.

An X-ray revealed Anthony had a widened growth plate in his shoulder. Known as "Little League shoulder," the condition is most common among pitchers and other positions that require frequent and forceful throwing.

No one was caught more off guard by the diagnosis than Anthony's dad, Albert, who is also his coach. He thought they were doing everything right. Says he, "We always warmed up and did the stretches so it came as a very big surprise."

Anthony's treatment involves rest and twice-weekly trips to the physical therapist. There, he rehabilitates his injured shoulder with various exercises including stretches and lifting light weights. He also had been ordered to stay away from the pitcher's mound, a bitter pill for the anxious athlete to swallow.

"I'm pretty mad," he says, "but I'm just happy I can pitch next year at least."

CBS News Health Contributor Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine specialist, also happens to be Anthony's doctor, and he offers more insight about Little League injuries.

Is Anthony's injury common in Little Leaguers?

Yes. It is more common than people may realize. Children are different than adults. They have what are called cartilage growth plates. If too much stress is put on these plates, serious problems can occur.

More and more children are concentrating on just one sport at an early age. Some kids, for instance, only play tennis. Like baseball, tennis puts extra stress on the shoulders and elbows. We call these "overuse injuries" and it's why we encourage young athletes not to limit themselves to just one sport.

What can parents and coaches do to prevent these types of injuries in their Little Leaguers?

The best prevention is to limit the number of innings a child pitches. Little League Baseball has been very proactive and instituted strict guidelines that all coaches must follow. Pitchers are limited to a maximum of six innings per week.

Parents also need to be very careful that they are not putting too much pressure on their children. More and more these days, you see parents reliving their youth through their kids. Parents need to step back and remember that it's just a game and it's all in fun.

Another must for Little Leaguers is a pre-season conditioning program that strengthens the rotator cuff.

Here are a few guidelines to help prevent injuries:

  • Avoid competitive weightlifting. The AmericaAcademy of Pediatrics has issued new guidelines on strength-training and kids. Top on their list: Avoid competitive weight lifting until a child's body reaches skeletal and physical maturity. This also includes power lifting and body building. The goal is not to become the next Arnold Schwarzenegger.
  • Include all major muscle groups. A workout should be complete. Children need to make sure they don't overwork one specific muscle group. This can lead to the type of over-use injuries the weight-training program is meant to prevent.
  • Warm up. This is especially important for kids. Something as easy as jumping rope or doing jumping jacks can go a long way towards preventing strains or small tears in the muscles.

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