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Parents Need to Be Aware of the Epidemic of Sports Injuries Among Young Athletes

03/12/2015 12:50 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2015

No journalist writes better about sports injuries than Will Carroll, author of Saving the Pitcher, which examines why so many pitchers -- from major leaguers to teenagers -- hurt their arms. A year ago, Carroll's work was recognized by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Carroll says so many middle and high school pitchers end up in the offices of orthopedic surgeons because so many coaches and parents are abusing young pitchers.

"What we're doing to kids today doesn't just border on abuse," Carroll said. "It is abuse, leading to pain and agony, and more egregiously, the loss of love for the game."

Scars heal, but it becomes a lot harder for a boy to love baseball again after it has caused him so much misery.

"They lose the love of the game because it quit being fun, and, worse, it hurt them physically," Carroll recently said during a discussion on the dramatic increase of sports injuries to young athletes.

Carroll was joined on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis on March 4, by Dr. Rob Klitzman, an orthopedic surgeon, Ralph Reiff, executive director of St. Vincent Sports Performance; and Bill Sampen, a retired major leaguer pitcher.

Too many kids are throwing too many pitches, especially curve balls. Too many coaches insist that players specialize in a single sport. Too many parents and kids listen to those coaches. And too many kids are getting hurt.

Young athletes should play different sports because they require different muscles. But more and more athletes specialize in a single sport, which leads to increased injuries and overworked muscles. Young pitchers overuse their arms and don't allow the muscles time to heal.

This has resulted in an epidemic in sports injuries among middle and high school athletes.

Dr. James Andrews, the internationally recognized orthopedic surgeon who has extended the careers of dozens of professional athletes, said there's been a five-to-sevenfold increase in injuries among youth athletes, particularly pitchers, since 2000.

In 2013, Andrews wrote the book, Any Given Monday: Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them. He also created a national campaign, STOP Sports Injuries to educate coaches, young athletes, and their parents.

"I'm trying to help these kids, given the epidemic of injuries we're seeing," Andrews told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "That's sort of my mission: to keep them on the playing field and out of the operating room."

The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine reports that the overuse of muscles is responsible for about half of the millions of middle and high school athletes who are injured every year.

Coaches tell parents that their sons and daughters need to specialize in a single sport to improve their chances for an athletic scholarship to college. This may serve the coach's best interests. It does not serve the best interests of the athlete, who overuses particular muscles and, by forsaking other sports for just one, they often get sick of that sport.

"Specialization has a better change of messing up that chance" for a college scholarship for an athlete, Klitzman said, "because they burn themselves out."

Parents want what is best for their kids. They're well-intentioned. If their son is going to get a college scholarship or be signed to professional contract, they've been told they need to specialize in baseball, play on travel teams, and play in showcases in front of scouts.

"If you saved all that money you spent on hotel rooms, you could send your kid to Harvard," Sampen said.

If we are to end the epidemic of sports injuries, Reiff said, we need to break the cycle of specialization.

We need more discussions like the one in Indianapolis.