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Steve Dischiavi's Health Tip: April is National Youth Sports Safety Month

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers

Well Panther fans- as our exciting season draws to an end, many of you will be turning your sights to baseball. As proud South Florida parents flock to ballparks this spring, many will be fearful the first time the umpire yells "play ball!" Moms and dads often wince at the prospect of injury, and April is set aside as National Youth Sports Safety Month to teach parents and coaches how to prevent injuries.

While many young athletes are hurt each year, the vast majority of injuries are not life threatening, and organized sports remain among the safest outdoor activities for children. By taking sensible precautions, such as wearing protective equipment, most of the dangerous elements of athletics can be avoided.

Nearly half of all accidental deaths suffered by youths under 14 occur between May and August when students are out of school and unsupervised. Drowning accounts for the majority of those tragic deaths, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

But on the ball field, heat is the primary concern, as rising temperatures cause dehydrated bodies to falter. Heat exhaustion sends thousands of athletes to the emergency room each year, and doctors believe most of those cases could be prevented. I hope my last health tip on hydration will help you prevent any heat related illnesses. Adults must be alert to any sports participant who has headaches, dizziness or muscle aches. Nausea or vomiting indicate heat exhaustion has reached a dangerous level and requires medical attention.

Head injuries are a threat in all athletics. Anyone involved in sports should consider wearing a helmet, but head protection is essential for baseball and football, and experts agree that the number one treatment for head injuries is prevention.

Muscle strain is another injury frequently suffered by young athletes. Doctors say most strains stem from overuse or inadequate conditioning and stretching. A minimum 10-minute warm-up can prevent most strains, particularly in baseball and softball, where rapid movements are often required after periods of little activity.

Controversy has brewed for years over youth league pitching, with some parents, physicians and sports medicine specialists opposing the trend toward more sophisticated pitches and longer appearances on the mound. The American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Ala. says research has shown a high rate of chronic elbow and shoulder problems among young pitchers. The studies indicate that the key to keeping a healthy arm is in conditioning, including learning the proper pitching mechanics. HealthSouth of Weston uses a dynamic progressive throwing program to help condition the young throwers arm.

However, ASMI also recommends that children wait until age 8 to throw a fastball, age 10 for a change-up, 14 for a curveball and until high school for other pitches. Pitch limitations per age group are an important factor in reducing pain and injury.

Innings pitched is not crucial, and the number of pitches depends on age, but days of use is very important. Younger athletes should throw four days a week at most and allow two or three days a week of rest from throwing.

As athletes get a little older and the level of competition becomes more advanced, they actually will need to throw hard less frequently.

Debate has also raged over aluminum bats and hard balls, but studies have been inconclusive about the need to soften the baseball or return to the wooden bats still used by major leaguers. While the most familiar injuries relate to throwing the ball, statistics show that the base runner is the most injured player. A helmet, safety glasses, mouthpiece, gloves and protective pads can reduce the chances of traumatic injury, but no sport can be made completely safe.

Panther fans- hockey is our passion. I know for some a summer without hockey leaves a void many of us fill with baseball. That's why I thought it was important to take a minute and give you a few health tips to help you and your children avoid injury this summer.

As always, remember: an educated mind leads to a healthier body!

Steve Dischiavi, MPT, ATC, MTC, CSCS

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