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(239) 963-2060

February 15, 2022
How to Reduce Injuries in Pitchers/Throwers

Although we have been teaching pitching in Northern Virginia since 1992 it wasn’t until the explosion of Travel Baseball in 2000 that we began to notice more players visiting us due to injuries occurring while pitching during games. Between 2000 and 2005 the injuries we began to see were mostly due to improper mechanics, and the frequency of the issues were increasing significantly. Over the past 10 years from 2005-to 2014 the various types of injuries in players under 16 years old have grown from basic tendonitis to growth plate separation, SLAP Lesions, torn labrum, torn UCL (Tommy John), and a variety of elbow and shoulder strains.

From what we can deduce, and as the American Sports Medicine Institute (AMSI) has researched, the main contributing factor to the influx of the various injuries is caused by TOO MUCH BASEBALL! I know it’s strange to hear that from a person whose livelihood is dependent on more players wanting to improve to play the game better. But from everything the medical world is presenting players are playing too much baseball at a younger age causing more injuries in their teenage years.

Throughout the year we come in to contact with families who are playing “travel” baseball at 8, 9, & 10 years old. It’s typical for these age groups to consistently play double headers during the weekends and to potentially play more than 2,3, or 4 games in one day during tournaments. In conversations with parents, we hear that Lil Johnny just loves baseball and that’s all he wants to do. From what the data shows this is a recipe leading to finding the best orthopedic surgeon in your network and 4-6 weeks in physical therapy. We understand families want to make sure that their children have a positive, fun-filled, and successful childhood, but sometimes “less is more”. Sometimes more practice is what players require, not more games. Sometimes time off can be a good thing. Sometimes other sports can be a good thing.

It’s great to develop short-term and long-term goals with your children. Lots of families have long-term goals of making the high school team someday. Many families join travel programs to give their sons or daughters the opportunity to make that high school dream come true. However, I don’t know many 8, 9, or 10-year-olds making the high school team at 8, 9, or 10. Players change in size and ability from season to season. The player they were at 10 is never the player they are at 16. Enjoy children as “little” leaguers and as they develop the genetics you gave them perhaps they can grow into the player that plays beyond 12 years old.

 

Position Statement for Tommy John Injuries in Baseball Pitchers

-EPIDEMIC

During the past few years there has been an “epidemic” rise in the number of professional pitchers requiring ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (“Tommy John surgery”).  This is like déjà vu, as a similar sharp rise was seen in adolescent pitchers near the turn of the century. These two rises are indeed connected; that is, today’s pro pitcher in his 20’s was an adolescent pitcher a dozen years ago.  Thus in many cases, the injury leading to Tommy John surgery in today’s young pro pitchers actually began while they were adolescent amateurs.  Observations by orthopedic surgeons support this link, as the torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in a pro pitcher usually looks like it has worn out over time.

-RISK FACTORS FOR ADOLESCENT PITCHERS

Research has shown that the amount of competitive pitching and pitching while fatigued are strongly linked to injury. Other risk factors may include pitching on multiple teams, pitching year-round, playing catcher when not pitching, poor pitching mechanics, and poor physical conditioning. Recommendations for youth pitchers are shown on the ASMI Position Statement for Youth Pitchers.

–RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PROFESSIONAL PITCHERS AND TEAMS FOR REDUCING RISK OF TOMMY JOHN INJURY

  1. Optimize pitching mechanics to ensure using the whole body in a coordinated sequence (kinetic chain). A biomechanical analysis is recommended, as it provides objective data to the pitching coach, strength coach, and pitcher. A biomechanical analysis can also serve as a baseline for re-evaluation later in the pitcher’s career, after performance improvement or after return from injury.
  2. Vary speeds for each of your pitch types. This will not only reduce the overuse on the elbow, but also can be an effective strategy. The best professional pitchers pitch with a range of ball velocity, good ball movement, good control, and consistent mechanics among their pitches. The professional pitcher’s objectives are to prevent baserunners and runs, not to light up the radar gun.
  3. Open communication between a pitcher and his professional coaching and medical staff is paramount. The pitcher’s elbow and body are living tissue. Pitching and training create small tears in the tissue; rest, nutrition, and hydration repair the tears. A pitcher and his team should have a plan, but that plan needs to be monitored and sometimes adjusted depending on how the pitcher feels. Specifically, the pitcher should keep his trainer or coach up to date about any soreness, stiffness, and pain. That way when there is an issue, the player and team can consider rest, modified activity, or examination from the team physician to allow the elbow to heal and avert serious injury.
  4. The pitching coach needs to watch for signs of fatigue on the mound. This could be seen in-game as well as in bullpen sessions.
  5. The team trainers, coaches, medical staff, and front office must share knowledge in a holistic approach to minimize the risk of injury.
  6. Flat-ground throwing drills and bullpen sessions should not always be at maximum effort. Reduced effort will allow for physical fitness and technique without adding undue stress to the UCL.
  7. Be wary of pitching in winter league baseball. The UCL and body need time to recover and build strength, so the concept of annual periodization should include adequate rest from full-effort pitching.
  8. Exercise, rest, and nutrition are vital for a pitcher’s health. Performance-Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) may enable the athlete to achieve disproportionately strong muscles that overwhelm the UCL and lead to injury.
  9. Pitchers with high ball velocity are at increased risk of injury. The higher the ball velocity, the more important to follow the guidelines above.
Published: February 15, 2022
Author: suiteedge
Categories: Uncategorized