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Physicians concerned about ‘Little League Shoulder’ in younger patients

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Nothing ruins the fun of little league sports like an injury.

Doctors with one metro hospital said they're seeing shoulder pain in athletes at younger ages than witnessed in the past. Some patients complain of throwing-related pain before they hit high school age. A condition called "Little League Shoulder" is of particular concern.

Youth baseball and softball player are seeing shoulder pain more frequently, and it may be the product of overtraining. Sports medicine specialists at St. Luke`s Health System said young athletes like 14-year old Jaxson Clapper aren't alone in experiencing 'Little League Shoulder.' Jaxson says he was in a baseball workout during this past winter, when he felt pain in his pitching shoulder. Doctors said that pain comes when the growth plate in a young person's shoulder narrows.

Clapper, who is now an eighth grader, said he tried toughing it out for a couple of weeks. He's played baseball or tee ball since he was four years old, giving his mom, Annette, time to learn when an injury is serious.

"When I threw my hardest, I knew something was wrong," Jaxon Clapper said. "I've had injuries in the past a lot, and it takes time out of training."

"I try not to overreact. After the fact that it rested, and didn't get better, and we wanted to make sure there was nothing wrong," Annette Clapper said.

Doctors and therapists at Saint Luke's Health System put Jaxon on a program designed to make his entire body stronger. They said it's not uncommon to see "Little League Shoulder" patients who don't recall an injury taking place.

"Overhead athletes and throwers will complain about what you might think is a muscle injury," Dr. Randy Goldstein, a pediatrician and sports injury specialist with St. Luke's, said on Tuesday.

Goldstein said coaches and various league organizers are doing their part to allow players to rest between pitching performances, and by implementing in-game pitch counts. However, according to Goldstein, year-round training is putting more physical strain on young athletes.

Every young athlete and their families can prevent this from happening, and ticking to a regiment of proper sleep, diet, and athletic conditioning can keep the entire body from breaking down at any age, according to Goldstein.

"Those who intend to do year-round baseball may think about spending that offseason batting or conditioning or core exercises, or perhaps playing a different sport and having fun with something else during the offseason," Goldstein said.

Goldstein added that, contrary to conventional belief, "Little League Shoulder" isn't necessarily the result of young pitchers throwing curveballs or other breaking pitches, which can put undo stress on a hurler's arm. Goldstein said he sees this injury in athletes as young as nine years old, and from players who are throwing only traditional fastballs.

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