The summer months bring on a flurry of activity in the sports world. People clamor to get outside and enjoy softball, tennis, bike riding, soccer, golf, swimming, baseball, you name it. We slather on sunscreen and head outside to watch our kids play softball or baseball. But what few of us focus on while we enjoy the sunshine and kids’ smiling faces is the potential for injury.
Last spring, Dr. Matelic noted in an article for MLive that, “3.5 million athletes younger than 14, each year are injured, mainly in the shoulder and elbow.” He further stated that “the injuries to shoulder muscles and cartilage have blossomed.”
What could be the cause of this epidemic? Simply stated, overuse. One conclusion suggests overuse with overhand pitching. It’s considered the most stressful throwing in all of sports when compared to fast-pitch softball or even passing a football. Stories begin to emerge of high school pitchers who have to undergo surgery to repair damage from overuse. Many of whom end their promising pitching careers at a very young age.
We’ve noted in many posts before that when we exercise we also need a period to rest and cool down, to help relax our muscles and allow our bodies to rest. But as the article further explored, young pitchers many times do not have an off season, and so those central muscles most frequently used in overhand pitching become fatigued.
Some coaches and officials are adjusting the rules and regulations for Little League, right down to changing age-old limits for pitching, to not consider the innings but the number of throws. Other programs try to keep track of pitchers’ innings.
And yet, these injuries continue to rise, so why is that happening? Some of our young athletes play really well and want to attract the attention of scouts, so they might consider overthrowing to attract attention. Without realizing it, some coaches may put too much pressure to win on young ball players that can push star players too far. Even in the off season young pitchers may be practicing a curve or learning other throws – never allowing their overused muscles to rest and heal. If an arm or elbow becomes damaged due to overuse, the injury may cut short a promising baseball career or worse force those individuals to not even be able to toss a ball around with their own kids some day.
So is overuse the main issue? It may not be, certainly overuse causes many issues for a young baseball player, but poor technique adds fuel to the fire. This may include technique, delivery, landing and follow-through. Parents who teach their children how to play as a fun family activity in the backyard may not know the fundamentals, often youth coaches skip those details all together.
How can parents help? Be involved, find out what pitchers can handle, based on height and strength, and discuss with coaches how the kids are participating in the game or during training. Education is key. Know your young players’ limits, be realistic and don’t push beyond the level of comfort. Injuries are on the rise and issues as a result of those injuries can be life long.
Here are some guidelines for young athletes, parents and coaches to consider:
- Find out how often your pitcher plays and how many pitches he throws.
- Identify a back-up position. Changing positions actually helps involve other muscles allowing overworked muscles to rest.
- Actual pain will need medical attention versus just simple stiffness and soreness. The first sign is arm fatigue, then local soreness and finally severe pain. But even with fatigue some damage may already be occurring.
- Learn the basics and proper mechanics early.
- Start building those core muscles beginning in middle school.
- Some suggest applying ice for 15 minutes per hour for 3 or 4 hours after hard throwing to protect muscles of the arm, shoulder or elbow. If soreness develops use the RICE method.
Also, avoid doing the following:
Pitching when fatigued.
Young pitchers should avoid curveballs until they are at least 14 or 15 years old, this lowers the exposure of elbow cartilage to damage.
There is no need to play through pain. And if the pain doesn’t go away, seek medical attention; the problem may be more serious than first expected.
There is no need to overthrow to impress a scout, they will see talent without overdoing the effort.
Don’t try playing for more than one team with overlapping seasons, it will quickly push the player beyond normal levels of pitching and could damage the arm since each team keeps track of their own pitching time and wouldn’t know the activities of another team the player is part of.
There is no need to risk damaging your rotator cuff through overuse.
Summer sports should be a time for fun, great weather and a chance to spend time out on the field with the team. By using care and logic players can enjoy many years of baseball without ruining their pitching arms.
To learn more about safety on the baseball field please contact our Sports Medicine Institute specialists by visiting our website or calling 459-7101.
Sources for this post were found here: