Is anyone counting how many pitches your son throws during the year?
If your young baseball pitcher is pushing himself to fulfill his dream of becoming a future big leaguer, he may be putting his arm at risk. And it’s important for you to step in and protect him, a recent study shows.
While most youth baseball coaches track the number of throws per game by their pitchers, that information isn’t enough, according to Cape Cod Healthcare orthopedic surgeon Joseph E. Chase, MD. To lessen the risks of damage to young arms, you need to tally the number of pitches over the course of each week, month, season and year.
“The problem is that as baseball players get older, they tend to play on more than one team,” he said. “They're playing for longer periods of times – eight, 10, and 12 months a year, which isn’t recommended. They also might be playing on multiple teams during the same school year.”
For younger pitchers (ages 11 to 16), the most common injury is called Little League shoulder, where the growth plate can be affected by microfractures.
“As as they get older, we commonly start to see elbow injuries, including damage or tear to the ulnar collateral ligament, which is known as the Tommy John injury,” said Dr. Chase, who worked with Red Sox legends Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez when he was a team physician during the 2004 World Series-winning year.
The study by University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland found that 56 percent of coaches reported “always” keeping track of pitch counts in games, but 92 percent did not keep track of pitch counts on a game, weekly, seasonal and yearly basis, which is recommended by the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI).
For example, the ASMI recommendations for a player aged 9 or 10 is a maximum of 75 pitches per week, 1000 per season; 2000 per year.
If your child is on three or four different teams, it's hard for each coach to keep up with the number of pitches thrown.
“If a child is playing on a high school team, an American Legion team and a club team, he’s throwing many, many more pitches than is recommended without enough rest in between games,” said Dr. Chase.
Parents can help by tracking pitch counts for every game and letting coaches know if the amount is getting too high.
It’s also important that young players are throwing age-appropriate types of pitches. Until the age of 10, they should only throw fastballs. After that they can begin experimenting with other pitches, which can put more strain on a growing arm – so a change-up at age 10, a curveball at 14 and a forkball at 16
“That's based upon the mechanics of those pitches and how much stress they put across both the elbow and the shoulder,” Dr. Chase said.
To further reduce the risk of arm injuries, he said, baseball players should do pre-season strength training, warm up with light throws before pitching and avoid playing baseball year-round.