Preventing Pitching Injuries -- Research Summary
EARLY AGE INJURIES: About 25 percent of youth baseball players experiences elbow pain, and pitchers are found to have the highest rate of osteochondral lesions, tears or fractures in the cartilage covering one of the bones in a joint. According to Cedars-Sinai, the cartilage can be torn, crushed or damaged, and in some rare cases, cysts can form in the cartilage. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has reported that throwing arm injuries among the youth baseball programs are on the rise. Some of the injuries cause players to be out of play for a season, may require surgery, and in some cases, may cause permanent damage. Because the increase of youth throwing arm injuries, there are now more cases of ligament reconstruction, also known as “Tommy John” surgeries.
TOMMY JOHN SURGERY: Tommy John surgery is a procedure where a damaged elbow ligament-- the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) -- is replaced with a tendon from a healthy ligament from elsewhere in the body. The popular surgery is named after the Hall of Fame pitcher Tommy John. Tommy John was the first person to have the surgery in 1974. This surgery alone allowed him to return to the major leagues and win 164 games. Prior to this surgery, an athlete’s career would be considered over. Studies have proven the success of the surgery and have found that 83 percent of athletes who undergo Tommy John Surgery were able to return to their previous level of competition or higher. The average time from surgery to full competition was 11.6 months. “The increase in the number of UCL reconstructions being done now can be attributed to many things: improved diagnostic techniques, heightened awareness, increased chance of positive outcome with current surgical techniques, but most importantly, the overuse of young throwing arms,” E. Lyle Cain, M.D., fellowship director for the American Sports Medicine Institute, Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham, Alabama was quoted as saying. (Source: American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine)
YOUTH BASEBALL PITCHING GUIDELINES: The American Sports Medicine Institute has outlined an appropriate pitch count, pitching skills and appropriate pitches per age group to protect against youth throwing injuries. For 9 to 10-year-old pitchers, it is OK to throw 50 pitches a game, 75 a week, 1,000 a season and 2,000 pitches a year. For 11 to 12-year-old pitchers, it is OK to pitch 75 pitches a game, 100 a week, 1,000 per season, and 3,000 pitches per year. For 13 to 15-year-old pitchers, it is OK to throw 75 pitches a game, 125 a week, 1,000 per season and 3,000 pitches a year. The guidelines also recommend mastering pitch control, command, velocity, and ball movement (in that order). Lastly, the guidelines suggest that certain types of pitches are not appropriate for young pitchers. At the age of 8, pitchers may throw fastballs. At 10, pitchers may throw change-ups. At 14, pitchers may throw curveballs. At 15, pitchers may throw knuckleballs. At 16, they can throw sliders. At 17, they can throw screwballs. (Source: American Sports Medicine Institute)
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