How to Help Your Child Avoid The Throwing Injury Empidemic
Baseball has been played in some form since at least 1344, but the first recognized game was played on June 19, 1856 in Hoboken, NJ. Baseball has been played for 162 years, so why is it that all of a sudden there is an epidemic of kids with shoulder and elbow injuries from throwing a baseball?
Currently, 26% of Major League pitchers have had Tommy John Surgery (and an additional 15% of Minor League pitchers). There has been a rise of Tommy John Surgeries in kids as young as 13 years old. But Tommy John surgery is not the only throwing problem on the rise. Injuries such as little league shoulder, little league elbow, Ulnar neuritis, VEO (valgus extension overload, GIRD (Glenohumeral Internal Rotation Deficit) causing rotator cuff injuries and labral tears, and Capitellar Osteochondritis Dissecans to scratch the surface can all be caused by throwing.
I, like most men my age, played Baseball starting at 5 years old and all through High School, but don’t have any of these issues, nor did I deal with them during my playing career. (Was I a highly touted pitching prospect?...No, not even close…that’s why I’m not on the field, but help keep those prospects on the field). I played with some really hard throwers, who had loads of scouts at every game, and none of them had these issues. Cy Young pitched every third day (7356 innings pitched in the major leagues), in a time with barbaric orthopedic surgeries and no MRI’s. Nolan Ryan pitched in the Major Leagues for 27 years in which he struck out 5,714 batters… and no Tommy John surgery.
So, why all the injuries from throwing you ask? Young athletes are throwing harder, more often and without rest. Over the last 10 years, sport specialization has continuously risen. Ten years ago, it was not hard to find high school athletes who lettered in 3 sports…now, good luck finding more than 2 in a school. 30-40% of kids are told to specialize in their best sport by their coaches before high school. I bet that it would be easier to find an 8 year-old who only plays one sport than a 3 sport high school athlete. This specialization has allowed kids to throw harder and progress faster, but has caused more pitches to be thrown with less rest periods.
More pitches with more velocity dramatically increases the risk of throwing injuries. The research will tell you that the top two risks for throwing injuries are volume and velocity.
These injuries can be prevented. It will take a team approach to slow this epidemic. Here are some tips to keep your kids in the game and healthy:
Warm up properly by stretching, running and “playing catch”
Play other positions than just pitcher
Adhere to Little League Pitching guidelines. (see the tables below)
Avoid pitching on multiple teams (but if your kid does play on multiple teams, keep a journal of pitches and innings to coordinate between both teams)
Don’t pitch on consecutive days
NEVER use a radar gun
Don’t play year round
Develop skills and pitches that are age (and developmentally) appropriate. Master the fastball and changeup before even considering breaking pitches.