Sunday, August 27, 2000

Baseball's effects on young boys studied

UK researchers say data might lead to better treatments

The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON — Can too many curveballs ruin a shoulder? Does throwing a fastball affect the way a Little Leaguer's arm develops?

        Two University of Kentucky researchers want to find out.

        Dr. Scott Mair, a UK orthopedic surgeon, and Timothy Uhl, who has a doctorate in athletic training, plan to test 120 boys between the ages of 8 and 15 who play organized baseball to measure such things as shoulder strength, arm flexibility and throwing velocity. The goal is to develop data that one day might lead to better treatments and guidelines to help young players avoid injuries, Dr. Mair and Mr. Uhl said.

        Thousands of young boys play organized baseball across the state. Lexington officials estimate about 5,000 play there alone.

        With such a high level of participation comes a higher number of injuries. Concerns have grown in recent years about the potential for young players to hurt themselves by throwing too hard, throwing too often or otherwise trying to duplicate the feats of their big-league idols.

        One of the most common injuries is “Little League shoulder,” a painful irritation to the growth plate in the shoulder.

        “But there is a lot about it that we don't know,” Mr. Uhl said. “Most studies of Little League shoulder have been done in youngsters who have symptoms. Nobody has looked at kids without symptoms. So, we don't know if these same irritations and inflammations are going to occur just from the normal activities of playing baseball.

        “If you don't know what normal is, it's hard to say what's abnormal.”

        In addition to pinpointing the causes of injuries, another purpose of the study is developing a picture of what the arms and shoulders of normal young players look like, and charting normal changes in the youngsters.

        Orthopedists know, for example, that older players develop more torsion, or rotation of the arm, and greater strength in their dominant arm. But what about younger players?

        When Mr. Uhl and Dr. Mair tested Little Leaguer Charlie McIntyre this week, they found about 10 percent more rotation in his throwing arm than in his other arm — a hint that such changes do occur in players as young as 12.

        Dr. Mair and Mr. Uhl stress that their study won't provide all the answers, and that many more surveys would have to be done to confirm their results.


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