Do Pitch Types Matter?
A more controversial area in youth pitching revolves around pitch types. Specifically, the curveball has been implicated for decades as a causative factor for injury in the young throwing athlete.
Table 3 – Recommended rest days based on pitching amounts.
Recommendations by coaches, parents and physicians have often been to avoid throwing curveballs until puberty. Interestingly, biomechanical research does not support this concern.
In biomechanical studies of young pitchers, it has been demonstrated that fastballs place greater stresses on the elbow and shoulder than curveballs.
Further, changeups place lower stresses on the elbow and shoulder than fastballs and curveballs. However, it is likely that young pitchers lack the neuromuscular development and mechanics to throw curveballs properly.
When youth pitchers have multiple pitches, it is likely that they will practice pitching more to become accomplished with their expanded repertoire of pitches. This increase in pitching quantity would be great concern for overuse injuries; thus, it is recommended that young pitchers delay throwing curveballs and other breaking pitches until the ages of 13 and 14.
Table 4 – Recommended rest days based on pitching amounts.
Other research-based recommendations to minimize injury risk to youth pitchers have been noted. It is recommended that youth pitchers not play catcher due to the increased volume of throws that would be made at the position. It is also recommended that youth baseball players not pitch on multiple teams with overlapping seasons. Additional recommendations include not throwing for three months each year and not continuing to pitch when they experience elbow or shoulder pain. Arm pain while pitching should be evaluated by physicians who specialize in sports medicine.
It is hoped that adhering to these principles will optimize injury prevention in the vulnerable arms of the physically developing youth baseball pitchers.
Article by Randy S. Schwartzberg, M.D.
Originally featured in FloridaMD Magazine, March 2015