(HealthDay News) — Young athletes who pitch >100 balls a week risk developing acromial apophysiolysis, according to research published online October 14 in Radiology.

Johannes Roedl, MD, PhD, of the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, and colleagues looked at records of 2,372 male and female patients, aged 15–25. All had undergone magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) between 1998–2012 after complaining of shoulder pain. Most were baseball or softball pitchers.

The researchers found that 2.6% had pain at the top of the shoulder and incomplete fusion of the acromion. Roedl compared these patients with a similar group without the condition and studied their pitching histories. Throwing >100 overhead pitches a week, in training and in games, was a substantial risk factor for developing the condition, he told HealthDay. Of those with the overuse injury, 40% said they had pitched >100 balls weekly. In the comparison group, just 8% had pitched that much. All the injured players laid off pitching for three months. One had surgery; the rest were given nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

MRIs or X-rays were done at least two years later, after the players turned 25. While 86% of the players with the overuse injury had incomplete fusion of the acromion, only 4% of the healthy players did. More than two-thirds of the overuse group had also suffered rotator cuff tears compared to 29% of the others, and the tears were more severe in the overuse group, the study found. The American Sports Medicine Institute says pitchers between 15–18 years old shouldn’t play more than two games a week and they should limit pitches to 50 a game.

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