Randy S. Schwartzberg, M.D.
An increasing number of shoulder and elbow injuries have been seen in youth baseball pitchers for the past few decades. These young athletes are at particular risk because of their developing bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and open growth plates.
Randy S. Schwartzberg, M.D., board certified orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Orlando Orthopaedic Center addresses these injuries on a regular basis in his practice. Below are several of the common questions he hears from athletes and their parents.
Why have overuse injuries become such a big concern?
Mostly because the number of reported pitching-related injuries has gone up in the past several decades. As more kids play travel ball and compete year-round, the susceptibility for injury increases. The greatest factor is overuse. After an amount of pitching, other factors that can contribute to injury include improper mechanics, insufficient warm-up and pitching despite having arm pain.
If we follow the pitch count protocol, can my child still get hurt?
Unfortunately, yes. Of course, you should pay close attention to the pitch count, but you should also watch for signs of struggle or deterioration of form as the game goes on. It is possible that he could become fatigued before reaching his pitch limit. This can alter mechanics and increase forces on the shoulder and elbow. My advice is to pay close attention to mechanics and attitude of the player and note any and all changes as the game progresses.
Outside of following pitch count limits, what can we do to help prevent injuries?
One of the best things that can be done to help avoid overuse injury in addition to following pitch count programs is to train and condition the core stabilizer muscles of the shoulder. The general strengthening of the entire kinetic chain of muscles from the ground up is advised. People with expertise in the throwing athlete such as select athletic trainers, physical therapists, and exercise physiologists can put together complete training programs.
Parents and athletes may also want to consider avoiding multiple teams/leagues with overlapping seasons, delay throwing the curveball and take the time to constantly reinforce proper throwing mechanics.
What are symptoms of an overuse injury? What should we be looking for?
Symptoms of an overuse injury include elbow or shoulder pain that occurs with most pitches and does not subside after pitching or recurs with the next throwing session. Mild soreness with pitching is acceptable if it goes away quickly. But young ball players should not be encouraged to continue pitching through pain.
Youth baseball injury infographic
Check out even more information and injury prevention tips for youth baseball pitchers with our Youth Baseball Injury Infographic.