Researcher at the American Sports Medicine Institute believe there is a the link between overuse at a young age and future injuries. An ASMI study published in 2011 examined 481 pitchers ages 9-14, and then checked with them 10 years later. Those who threw more than 100 innings in a year were 3.5 times more likely to need elbow or shoulder surgery or were forced to stop playing baseball.
With the rise in elbow and shoulder injuries in youth baseball pitchers, the adult community needs to take steps to prevent these injuries. Research points to overuse as the principle risk factor. Poor pitching mechanics also contribute to injury risk. Another suggested risk factor is poor physical fitness.
Throwing curveballs has been suggested as a risk factor, but the existing research does not support this concern. However, a youth pitcher may not have enough physical development, neuromuscular control, and proper coaching instruction to throw a curveball with good mechanics. Throwing curveballs too early may be counter-productive, leading to arm fatigue as well as limiting the youth’s ability to master fastball mechanics.
Thus, the recommendations for preventing injuries in youth baseball pitchers are:
- Watch and respond to signs of fatigue (such as decreased ball velocity, decreased accuracy, upright trunk during pitching, dropped elbow during pitching, or increased time between pitches). If a youth pitcher complains of fatigue or looks fatigued, let him rest from pitching and other throwing.
- No overhead throwing of any kind for at least 2-3 months per year (4 months is preferred). No competitive baseball pitching for at least 4 months per year.
- Do not pitch more than 100 innings in games in any calendar year.
- Follow limits for pitch counts and days rest.
- Avoid pitching on multiple teams with overlapping seasons.
- Learn good throwing mechanics as soon as possible. The first steps should be to learn, in order: 1) basic throwing, 2) fastball pitching, 3) change-up pitching.
- Avoid using radar guns.
- A pitcher should not also be a catcher for his team. The pitcher-catcher combination results in many throws and may increase the risk of injury.
- If a pitcher complains of pain in his elbow or shoulder, discontinue pitching until evaluated by a sports medicine physician. Inspire youth pitchers to have fun playing baseball and other sports. Participation and enjoyment of various physical activities will increase the youth’s athleticism and interest in sports.
In MLB news, Dr. James Andrews, one of the world’s top orthopedic physicians, will be meeting with a research committee Monday at Major League Baseball’s headquarters. All of baseball is focused on a most precious 2 1/8 inches — the average length of the ulnar collateral ligament.
This year, more than a dozen major league pitchers already have undergone Tommy John surgery — which involves replacing the elbow ligament with a tendon harvested from elsewhere (often the non-pitching elbow or forearm) in the patient’s body. All-Stars Patrick Corbin, Josh Johnson and Matt Moore have had the surgery, and NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez was scheduled to have his operation Friday.
“It’s a problem. There’s no question about it,” baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said. “I’m almost afraid to pick up the paper every day because there’s some bad news.”
The surgery forces a player to miss at least a full season, but many power pitchers — including Chris Carpenter (2007), Stephen Strasburg (2010) and Adam Wainwright (2011) — threw as hard with their repaired elbows as they did before. Matt Harvey is still recovering from surgery last year.
The league hopes it can find ways to protect these million dollar elbows before surgery is required.
“We’re going to put together a research project to help figure this out. We don’t know quite what to say at this point,” he said. “But, yeah, it’s got everybody’s attention.”
I look forward to their findings.